A man in a blue suit rushed into the station at nine p.m. exactly, looked at me and said, “Is this the sheriff’s office?”
I wanted to tell him, “No. I just wear this badge and khaki uniform for kicks.” But we’re supposed to be polite to strangers, so I just said, “It is, actually.”
Holding up a sheet of green paper, he stepped up to my desk and said, “I need to speak to someone in charge.”
“That would be me. I’m Deputy Carlson.”
He handed me the green sheet, which I recognized. It was the flyer the county put out. I looked at it again, in case it had changed in the last two weeks. It read: $2,000 REWARD FOR THE RETURN OF THE BOLL WEEVIL MONUMENT stolen from its pedestal in front of the Wayne County Courthouse. It listed the phone number and address of the sheriff’s office beneath a black and white photo of the monument, a woman in a long roman toga holding a boll weevil above her head. The pride of Wayne County, ours was the only monument in the US to a pest, which we’d eradicated from the area long before I was born. The monument was only three feet tall, didn’t weigh a hundred pounds.
“We figured it was college kids,” I said. “Been searching high and low for it.”
“If I tell you where it is, do I get the reward?”
Like, duh. “Sure. You know where it is?”
“Can I get a check right away? I’m just passing through town. First time here. There was a wreck on the interstate so I took a side road. Stopped at Nora’s Café for a quick bite. People aren’t very talkative around here, not even the waitress. Saw the flyer next to the cash register and realized I’d just seen the monument.”
“You saw it in the café?”
He rolled his eyes. “No. On the side road coming into town.”
I took out an incident report form and asked his name, address, the usual.
“Al Stevens,” he said. “I’m from Atlanta. I’m a salesman for Porter Industries. We sell computers. You going to go look for the monument right away?”
I held up my portable radio. “We have cars out cruising the county. Soon as you tell me where it is, we’ll check it out.”
“That little road that comes in from the east. I think its Highway 22. There’s a big curve before you get to town, right past an old bridge.”
I nodded. “That’s Highway 22, all right.”
“I saw something white behind some big bushes, just in front of a dilapidated windmill. I stopped, my headlights on it and I thought it was a strange place to put a statue.” He got excited now. “You might be right about college kids. I saw a young guy by the monument. He ran off. Red-headed guy. Ran with a limp.”
I nodded again. “That’ll be Louie Clooney. One of our bad apples.” I picked up my radio and asked Unit 2 to check out Highway 22 by the old windmill.
“Have a seat, Mr. Stevens.”
He sat in one of the folding chairs in front of my desk, fiddled with the crease of his pants.
“Do a lot of traveling through here?” I asked.
“On the interstate,” he said. “Course, if it’s blocked up, I take the side roads.”
“Did you see if the monument was damaged?”
“Didn’t get a good look at it.” He smiled. “Guess y’all must have missed it on your passes up that road the last two weeks since it was stolen.”
Unit 2 called and said it was the monument all right.
At that moment the door burst open and Louie Clooney came limping in, stammering, “Hey, I found the monument!”
“By the old windmill?” I asked.
“Yeah,” said Louie. “How’d you know?”
I nodded to Al Stevens. “Man just came in for the reward. He also gave us who stole it.”
I went around and handcuffed Al Stevens, telling him, “You think us yokels haven’t been checking out Highway 22. How’d you know the monument was stolen two weeks ago? It’s not on the flyer and you didn’t talk to anyone at the cafe. Did you?”
Copyright © 2016 O’Neil De Noux. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.