The story so far:
The forensics team had skin like Rhinos to wade through this kind of horror. One skinny guy was even back and forth to his pocket with half a sandwich. “Looks like it was someone from the outside, Sheriff.” said a beefy, red-faced guy. “I don’t think it was Jim Togg, anyway. Now this is all initial stuff, but his shoes don’t match what’s down there in the blood and we didn’t find any of his prints on the bodies or the hacksaw. According to the footprints we have right now, he only went down as far as the bottom step. Must have stopped short when he saw the scene. That’s what we have right now. When the lab is finished in a day or two I’ll call you with the full report.” And off he went up the stairs with the crack of his pudgy white arse winking at Handley the whole way.
After visiting the crime scene, Handley found Togg on the steps to the back porch still staring into what was now a late morning chills. The sun was sagging and the cold breeze reminded the Sheriff of when his mother would call him in for dinner as a small boy. He was usually playing with Jimmy Togg in the woods or building something with all of the tools Togg’s father kept in the same basement he had just come from. It was an amazing sting of life; the Togg basement would now produce such opposite visions for the rest of his life. Neither image would vanish nor could one now exist without the other. Those days were roughly forty years ago and both men still lived in the homes they grew up in and were just as close.
“Christ, Jim, I don’t know what to say. God help us all to find the evil who did this”, offered Handley.
“I just can’t seem to believe it, Ed.” Togg was stoic. “I left last night and kissed Hetty on the nose. I always did that when I left for church, just a strange habit. Luanne was in her room talking to one of her girlfriends. I peeked in and said good-bye. Now I’m all alone. My babies are gone, Ed.” Togg’s eyes were swelling with tearful stings and the horrible images of his loved ones in the basement. He broke down and cried in his hands. Ed Handley was an awkward guy when it came to displays of emotion but he had no trouble now as he hugged his longtime friend. Both men sat on Togg’s steps and wept until the icy wind was too much for them.
With the gruesome murders of two close friends on his plate and a turd-lined, leaking barn roof, Handley didn’t have much bounce in his step when he returned home that night. He flopped on his Grandmother’s old couch and noticed a fog of dust explode from the cushions. A day-old beer was on the coffee table next to him and he finished it in one breath. Anger and acceptance waved through his body at the same time as if swimming together, hand in hand, while his mind sputtered to understand the world. He didn’t like the rules. Anybody could do anything to anyone whenever they wanted, not to mention Mother Nature waking up on the wrong side one day and wiping out a village or two. Who made this game up? How do you win? Is it even winnable? Then there was the acceptance of the whole thing. He wasn’t responsible for the world’s woes; he didn’t kill people or abuse them. That was left up to someone else in society. Handley felt like there were good guys and bad guys and some in betweeners, but he was mostly a good guy and was playing his part. That was it, though. He felt like a puppet that was playing the role of a cop; “Here’s your script for this life and try to remember your lines. We’ll send round some bad guys in a bit so be ready to see some real fireworks. Oh, yeah, we almost forgot, we’re going to take your wife from you compliments of a horrible disease just to add a pinch of sadness in there, OK?” Who was “they”? The big question. Ed Handley fell asleep with these thoughts whispering to him.
Milk Dudd was leaning on his horn in Handley’s mud driveway at eight o’clock the next morning, which was Saturday. Handley was technically off on Saturday but given the situation at the Togg’s house he was working. The sheriff waved his deputy into the house and they sat down for a cup of coffee before heading over to the crime scene. From Handley’s kitchen, they could both hear the geese flying overhead and looked at each other in silence, knowing that the roof had just received a fresh coat.
“So, did you get any sleep last night, Skip”, asked Dodd.
“Actually…I did, Mike. Passed out on the couch and didn’t even have to get up to use the toilet. Not once. Weird dreams, though. Saw Jimmy’s father in his basement making a birdcage while Jimmy’s mom looked on from the steps leading up to the kitchen. They weren’t talking at all, just kind of glancing over at each other every once in a while. Strange, huh?”
“Probably not. I think that kinda stuff is to be expected”, said Dodd. “I was up every hour looking at the clock and knowing that there’s some psycho out there. Maybe even doing some other family while we all slept.”
“Mike, did you notice anything strange about Jimmy when you were over there last week? I mean anything at all? How was he getting along with Hetty? Were they like they always were…warm and fuzzy to each other?”
“****, Skip, you think Togg killed his wife and daughter?”
“I don’t want to think that but I can’t help it and we have nothing else until we talk to forensics. We have to chase everything down on this one, Mike. For my own peace of mind I need to cross him off the list, that’s all.”
“You heard the forensics guy say that he didn’t think Togg was the one. His prints weren’t on the hacksaw. Those guys are usually right on, besides we’ll talk to Jesse and see if she was able to confirm Togg’s story from the night before. If he checks out then we can be pretty sure he’s OK, right?”
“That’s just it - his own hacksaw with no prints on it? Even if his story is good, he could still come home and do the killings. Kinda odd that he comes home and falls asleep without noticing anything strange. I mean something has to feel wrong if you’ve got two bodies in the basement, right? The beginnings of the smell, for one thing. The absolute silence for another. You mean you just come home and fall asleep in a chair and you never go into the kitchen or any other room? You just go straight for the chair? I guess it’s possible but I can’t see it going down that way, Mike.”
“You were hugging the guy last night. What happened to move you over this way?”
“I guess my head was working away at this during the night, but who cares about that. Do you agree with me on this or no?”
“Maybe he’s all boozed up when he comes home and, yes, he goes right for the chair and then it’s more believable. We can check with the bartender over at the Wampler to see if Togg was in bad shape when he left. If not, and he was sober, then yeah I guess it’s weird that he doesn’t see or feel anything when he gets in that night. Now that you mention it, the hacksaw thing makes no sense”.
“Let’s take a ride”, said Handley.
Mike Dodd was thirty-five years old, single and the most dedicated cop Handley ever knew. He often felt Dodd was being wasted by serving in such a rural community, but after the Kelsey Convent disaster, he was sure of it. Dodd’s performance and commitment on that case was legendary, especially for a twenty-six year old rookie. He worked around the clock to nail the homeless, whacko vet who was convicted of the crime. When everyone else, including Handley, was ready to chalk it up as an accident, Dodd insisted on pushing further. Something didn’t smell right and he kept going. About two months before the convent fire, Dodd had noticed the homeless man and had given him a lift over to a shelter, where he did not stay long. The two men got to know each other, in as friendly a way as a bum and a cop can, but Dodd said the guy would tell him nothing of his personal life. Three weeks after the fire at the convent, with absolutely no leads, Dodd decided to pick him up for the hell of it. Maybe the old guy had seen something and could be helpful. When Dodd started asking him about the fire and if he had noticed anything, the guy opened up a bit. He was a special forces Vet and his name was Dean LeMatt. That’s all he told Dodd, along with his serial number, as if he were a POW. Dodd banged in a few phone calls and did some late night internet research and found out that Col. Dean LeMatt further specialized in “clandestine pyrotechnics”. Now Dodd was on to something. A Sante Fe newspaper article reported that LeMatt had recently lost his wife in an accident, after which his daughter disowned him for some reason and moved to London. Apparently, he snapped and just walked out his door one day with nothing but the clothes on his back. There was a “missing persons” out on him and the article painted him as a hard luck, fallen hero kind of a guy. When Dodd was releasing LeMatt from the overnight cell, he confronted the Vet with the new found details of his life. Dodd said the man fell apart and confessed to everything about the fire. No reason was given as to why he fired up the convent but everyone just suspected that given his mental state it was simply insanity. The arraignment was a slam-dunk and the judge gave LeMatt twenty-five years to life. He was pretty much finished by that sentence. Dodd’s gut feelings and persistence landed him in the newspaper, pictured right next to his criminal, and his place at the station was sealed - right next to Handley.