Horror & Mystery Book Club February 2022 Submissions
Our dispatcher, Corinna Boddy, met me at the door on Monday morning with a Styrofoam cup of black coffee and a neon green sticky note.
“Carol Adams called, said her sister’s missing.”
Corinna held onto the coffee until I took the note from her. Corinna’s been with the sheriff’s office over forty years. Her hair is the same brassy reddish orange as the day she started, but her uniform size is larger by half. She works the day shift now, but comes in before the sun rises so she can point out all the mistakes Harmon, the night shift dispatcher, makes.
“When did she last hear from Lynette?” I took the coffee and walked past her to my office. My position as the sheriff in our small county affords me my own desk but little privacy. That’s what you get for settling in your hometown, there wasn’t much that folks around here didn’t know about me. I imagined Lynette had trouble keeping her own secrets. Corinna followed and settled across from me in the straight-backed wooden chair designed to discourage lingering.
“She says Lynnette was supposed to come by last night, but she didn’t show and she’s not answering her phone.”
I blew on the coffee and set the cup down next to the sticky note. “Thanks Corinna, I’ll give her a call.”
“Thought you might want to send Zach out to Weldon’s place, see what’s up,” she said.
Zach is our newest deputy. Fresh from the army, he’d probably appreciate the chance to tackle something besides tracking down feral dogs and issuing citations for burn ban violations, but I would handle this one myself.
“I’ll swing by after I talk to Carol,” I told Corinna.
“Be careful, Troop. That boy is trouble.”
The “boy” was thirty-nine years old, same age as me. Lynette, Weldon and I came up through school together. I left after high school, joined the army to see the world. When I got my fill of sand and heat, I put in ten years as a state trooper then drifted back to my hometown. They elected me sheriff last year.
I pulled out my mobile phone and listened to the ring go through to voice mail before I dialed the number Corinna had written down. There was no answer on that one either.
Carol lived in town, in the childhood home she took over after her folks retired. Her younger sister Lynette moved out right after college, when she came back to work for Jim Turner, a local accountant. She took back up with Weldon Foster and married him. Weldon had a short-lived stint of fame as a high school running back. He’d attracted the attention of college scouts until an aggressive linebacker the size of a pro-footballer fractured his knee in Weldon’s junior year. Now he lived out by the lake and made a living doing odd jobs, handy-man stuff mostly. He’d haul off your trash or remodel your bathroom, and in the summer, he picked up work as a fishing guide.
When I pulled up, Carol’s wife Maria was out front tugging on weeds in the flower bed that lined the drive. They’d kept up the white frame house. Except for the daffodil yellow trim, it looked much the same as the last time I’d visited here, back in junior high school. I parked the car as Maria stood up and gave a little wave.
“Carol’s out back, smoking,” she said. She frowned and shook her head.
“Any word from Lynette?” I asked.
“No. Carol’s worried sick about her.”
Walking toward the back of the house, I spotted Carol on the deck. She stubbed out her cigarette and turned to me. Her eyes had dark smudges under them and her lips were chapped, rubbed raw.
“When’s the last time you spoke to Lynette?” I asked as I settled in the chair next to hers.
“Sunday morning. She called and asked if she could stay awhile, said she was leaving Weldon. I thought she’d come right out then but she told me she’d be here later that day. She wanted to pack a few things first.”
“Have you talked to Weldon?” I asked.
She laughed, a choked off snort and shook her head. “Weldon and I don’t exactly get along, Troop. He doesn’t approve of my ‘lifestyle.’”
I gave Carol my card and wrote my personal mobile number on the back. “Call me if you hear anything. I’ll run out to their place and let you know what I find out.”
She nodded and put my card in her pocket, then shook another cigarette out of the pack and lit up. I left her staring out over the back yard, a haze of smoke circling her head.
You never forget your first love. Mine had been Lynette Adams in eighth grade. We first kissed there on the deck in her backyard, the summer we turned thirteen. She tasted like the cinnamon gum she chewed, and her long brown hair tickled my neck as she leaned in to press her lips to mine. Swatting mosquitos and watching fireflies light up the balmy evening, we held hands, reluctant to go inside to the air conditioning and the watchful eyes of Lynette’s mom. In high school we drifted apart, I took a part-time job after school and went out for football. Lynette joined the band and dated the star running back on the football team, Weldon Foster.
I steered the sheriff’s department SUV along the potholed white rock road that led out to Weldon and Lynette’s place. When I topped a small hill, I spotted the blue-green line of the lake meeting the grey sky at the horizon. A battered aluminum mailbox marked the turn off onto their property. The sagging barbed wire fence lining the approach held dozens of softball-sized black objects. I looked closer–Weldon had strung dried catfish heads along the wire. Monstrous, their dead mouths gaped. Spiky whiskers sprouted from the flat sides. Empty eye sockets followed my approach, like sentinels set to watch.
The house, a one-story red brick ranch style, had a carport to one side. Weldon’s boat, a maroon and grey Nitro with a Mercury outboard motor, was stored next to his Ford pickup. I radioed Corinna to let her know my location, then got out and ambled toward the house.
When no one answered my knock, I started around the side to the back. Weldon appeared before I turned the corner. Shirtless, his hands were bloodied, and he held a seven-inch fillet knife, wicked silver blade pointed down to the ground.
“What?” he asked.
“Carol called the sheriff’s, looking for Lynette. She around?”
For answer Weldon motioned for me to follow him, waving with the hand that held the knife. At the back of the house a large blue cat, at least sixty-pounds of fish, hung from a frame made up out of a child’s rusted swing set. The catfish, hooked through the lower jaw, was suspended over a white plastic five-gallon bucket. I watched as Weldon slit the fish from dorsal fin to tail and scooped out the innards into the bucket.
“I ain’t seen Lynette. She packed up and took off yesterday.”
He spoke as he worked, next slicing down the side of the fish and tossing the chunk of meat onto a plywood table. His hair hung in greasy strands past his collarbones, pulled off his forehead with a dirty blue bandana. Every so often he’d sniff and twitch, wiping at his face with his upper arm. Weldon’s arms, face, and legs were pocked with small sores, some scabbed over and others dotted with fresh blood where he’d scratched. His eyes were shiny and wild, the pupils dilated.
I remembered talking to Lynette right after I first moved back. I’d stopped in the Dairy Queen for lunch, and there she was, in a red vinyl booth at the back of the dining room. I carried my tray over and joined her. Her face lit up when she saw me. The years had been pretty good to her, she had lines at her eyes and her shoulders slouched a bit, but when we got to talking about the old days, she threw back her head and laughed out loud like the high school girl I remembered. We caught up on town gossip and eventually I got around to the reason I joined her in the Dairy Queen booth. I knew Weldon was out on bail after his arrest for methamphetamine possession.
“You deserve better than that, Lynette.”
“He’s had some bad breaks, he’s gonna straighten out,” she said. The sleeve on her shirt rode up as she reached for her drink, exposing a set of bluish-green bruises on her arm.
“He do that to you?” I asked.
She pulled at the sleeve to cover the bruises. “It’s not what you think, Troop. He’s never really hurt me.”
Not yet, I thought.
While Weldon worked the knife, slicing and cutting the catfish into neat fillets, I studied the line of dirty white plastic buckets stashed beside the plywood table. Flies buzzed around the lids and settled now and again on the slick surface. I reached down to lift the top off one of the buckets.
“Hey law man, you got a warrant?”
Weldon pointed the fillet knife at me. He grinned, showing brown stained teeth. “You don’t want to open up that bucket, that’s my special recipe stink bait. We’d have to clear out the neighbors.”
Stink bait, the nastier the better according to its aficionados, was a mix of fermented fish offal, moldy cheese, and any other gross garbage that could be found to toss in. It was mashed and stirred together with a binding agent, usually loaves of soft white bread or cornmeal, then fashioned into lumps that could be held on a fishhook. Some fishermen swore by it, and dumped buckets of it into favorite fishing holes to lure the big catfish, the bottom feeders who fed by scavenging.
I held up my hands. “Not going there, Weldon. I came out here to ask about Lynette that’s all.”
“And I told you I don’t know where she went. Took off with a suitcase Sunday night,” Weldon said. His face darkened and his voice rose as he spoke. “Why don’t you go ask the guy she’s been fucking!”
He stepped close until we stood almost toe to toe. I kept my eye on the knife.
“I’m leaving, but if I need, I’ll come back with a warrant. You keep your hands off her if she does come back.”
At home that night I sat at my kitchen table, cleaning my service revolver when Carol called me on my mobile.
“I talked to Tom Alvin, he’s got a boat dock there on the lake, and he says he saw Weldon running his trot line late Sunday night,” she said.
“Oh?” I waited while Carol took a shaky breath.
“Weldon was tossing something into the water from buckets he had on his boat.”
The image of Weldon, bent over and laboring over his hideous task, stayed with me late into the morning. I thought about those white plastic buckets, the stink bait fermenting in his yard. I fell into anxious dreams of monsters swimming through brackish water, huge fish with streaming hair and rotting jaws stretched open in screams.
The sun was up, high overhead when I drove back out to Weldon’s place. He was out back again, a new fish hooked up on the frame. I moved close to him, watching over his shoulder as he dumped the bloody guts into the bucket.
“You catch that fish on a trot line?” I asked.
“Working for the game warden are ya’?”
“Just curious. You run your lines every night?”
Weldon set the filet knife on top of the stained plywood of his work table. The wooden handle of the knife held Weldon’s bloody fingerprints. The long, thin blade curved to a delicate point.
“I’m on the lake whenever I get a chance,” Weldon said.
I stepped beside Weldon to bump the bucket of offal with the toe of my shoe.
“What’s that?” I asked as I bent, my palm down and my fingers stretched out to pluck something from the mess.
I turned my hand over to show Weldon what I’d scooped out of the pail. A wedding ring, gold and shining despite the gore spotting it.
Weldon stared at the ring, comprehension slowly coming across his face as he took a breath, stepped back, and snatched the knife from the table. Grunting, he slashed the blade across my midsection, leaving a trail of fire. Weldon turned, to stab the blade deep into my shoulder. I gasped, but held my ground and drew my gun across my hip. Weldon pulled the knife out and cocked his arm for another blow as my bullet tore through his chest. He looked surprised as he dropped the knife and fell to the ground, sightless eyes staring at the clouds above.
They stitched me up in the hospital and insisted I stay a couple of nights. Even though Weldon’s knife had missed vital organs I’d lost a lot of blood before the ambulance arrived. They wrapped up the crime scene investigation without me, and I’m not sorry for that. The Rangers cleared the shooting, ruling it justified in self-defense, considering my injuries. As for Lynette, they found enough for Carol to bury, and enough evidence they could have sent Weldon away, if I hadn’t saved the state the trouble.
Corinna brought flowers when she came to visit me in the hospital. She fussed around with the vase, arranging the petals just so before she pursed her lips and looked at me.
“What a coincidence, her ring winding up in that fish’s belly,” she said.
“Ah huh,” I said, “coincidence, or just what he deserved.”
She nodded, satisfied at my answer. There’s not much a smart woman can’t figure out on her own, but I was glad Corinna left it at that.
I’ll take the truth to my grave. I had the ring in my pocket the morning I went back to see Weldon. She’d left it on my nightstand the day of her murder.
“I need time to sort things out, Troop. By myself. I’ll call you when it’s safe.”
She stretched to kiss me goodbye. Her breath smelled of cinnamon and she smiled while she told me she’d leave him that day.
“I’ve got a few things I want to pick up from the house, first, and then I’m leaving town.”
“I’ll go with you,” I said.
But I was glad when she said she wanted to do this alone. I had no stomach for showing up at Weldon’s doorstep, the man who’d made a cuckold of him. I told myself it’d be easier this way. He’d never really hurt her.
I don’t know if Weldon believed the fish had sucked up the ring from the bottom of the lake, or if he’d known me as her lover when he saw it gleaming in my palm. I don’t want to think about those plastic buckets, or where parts of her finally came to rest. I’d like to think of her floating out of the lake, following the path of rivers to the wide deep ocean to sleep there, undisturbed.
“Stinkbait” copyright © 2018 by Terrye Turpin. First published online at www.theweeklyknob.com.
About the Author
Terrye is a native Texan who enjoys writing stories set in her home state and other strange places. In her free time Terrye enjoys exploring antique, junk, and thrift stores for inspiration and bargains. She’s had stories published in small print and online journals, and writes short, humorous essays for her blog.
Some of her work can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/~/e/B085XLZMCX