Tickled to Death
Author:Sharon K. Garner
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    Mystery1,

    Tickledto Death

    SharonK. Garner

    “Pashot hisself early this morning. He’s dead. Ma says you shouldcome.” Twelve-year-old Beau Childers delivered the message in amonotone, holding Sheriff Marcus Dean’s gaze without blinking.

    Marcusstudied the scrawny, pale boy who silently appeared at his desk inthe tiny Pine Hollow, Kentucky, sheriff’s office to calmly deliverthis bombshell. And he knew the boy had walked every step of the fivemiles into town to do it.

    Accordingto procedure, he called Doc to follow them to the cabin. Then, askindly as he could, he placed a gentle hand on the boy’s bonyshoulder and ushered him to the squad car.

    He’dtraveled the rutted, narrow dirt road to the Childers’ placebefore, because he and Cal Childers had a history. Cal was a meanpiece of work when he drank, and he drank a lot.

    Thefirst time he came up against Cal was early on, when a younger Beaucame to fetch his dad from the Hoot ‘n’ Holler Bar because hismother had taken sick. Cal threw the boy to the bar floor and tickledhim to tears and near hysteria. Marcus especially hated that form ofphysical abuse that masqueraded behind the victim’s involuntarylaughter.

    Thenlast year the preacher at the fundamentalist church where Cal allowedhis wife and son to occasionally attend had reported the bruises andcontusions on the woman’s and boy’s faces. That had been anotherfruitless visit and a warning. Eula wouldn’t press charges and Beauclaimed he fell down. All it accomplished was Eula and Beau Childers’absence from church.

    Andlast month Cal had put a loaded .45 to his head in the Hoot ‘n’Holler. Marcus had confiscated the gun but Cal bragged about havingothers. He’d managed to keep him in jail two days for that episode.

    Eulasat on the ramshackle cabin’s steps, slowly rocking her body backand forth. Beau was out of the car like a shot to sit beside her, hisarm across her thin shoulders.

    “He’sinside,” she said softly before Marcus even spoke.

    “Whathappened, Eula?” he asked in a quiet voice.

    “Sameas always. He was drinkin’ ‘shine and threatnin’ to shoothisself, only this time he pulled the trigger.”

    Henodded as Doc pulled in behind the squad car. “An ambulance is onthe way. Why don’t you and Beau gather up some things after we’refinished and I’ll take you to your sister’s house.”

    “Muchobliged, sheriff,” she answered and started rocking again. “Haven’tseen her in five years. Cal wouldn’t let her near the place.”

    Doctipped his disreputable black hat to Eula and Beau, briefly exposinga shock of white hair. “I’ll give you and Beau something before Ileave, Eula,” he told her, patting her on the shoulder. When shewinced and sucked in her breath, he looked at Marcus and shook hishead, his mouth a thin, hard line.

    CalChilders lay on his back on the kitchen floor, a .38 Special clutchedin his right hand. Marcus had seen enough of those in his time withthe New York City police department, and he knew Cal had beenright-handed.

    Anopen stoneware jug and a glass sat on the table. He sniffed both,sneezing as the high-proof alcohol fumes burned his nose.

    WhileDoc did the necessary things, Marcus knelt to take a look at the .38Special that Cal held in a death grip. He’d have to free it and bagit before the body was moved.

    Hegot to his feet and walked around the room. Eula had tried to makethis a home. Cheerful gingham curtains hung at the windows and acolorful plastic tablecloth covered the table. Handbraided rag rugslay in front of the sink and stove. And the place was spotless,except for where blood had sprayed onto one wall, consistent withwhere Cal had been standing when he fired the shot and fell. A redpuddle had pooled on the linoleum-covered floor where Cal’s headrested.

    Therewas evidence of Cal’s violence in the room too, like the numerousfist-sized holes in every wall, the dented pots and pans hangingabove the stove, and the broken dishes peeping out of thewastebasket.

    Hewondered what unseen marks Eula and Beau carried beneath theirclothing and what unvoiced memories and feelings Beau carried in hishead. He decided he would do everything he could to get the boy intocounseling now that pride and fear no longer kept Beau and his motherhere.

    Marcuswatched Doc raise Cal’s untucked flannel shirt to get a bodytemperature. He became alert as Doc paused to examine an area ofslight bruising on the right-side ribcage. He watched intently whenDoc shifted to the left side to check. Marcus saw the marks theretoo. His eyes met Doc’s briefly then he took up his ‘considering’stance, whistling through his teeth and rocking back on his heelswhile he waited for Doc to finish.

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