Note: This month’s Flash Fiction Draw Challenge was for a mystery, set in an open field involving a beard trimmer. I’ve been to a few small farm towns in Kansas like the one I depict here. Special thanks to Cait Gordon for hosting the draw!—-jsb.
The Adventure of the Open Field
By Jeff Baker
Raymond Ervine had been found dead in the middle of a field of harvested wheat, and he had been shot in the back of the head at close range not more than a day ago. It had rained for several days earlier and the field had been muddy for much of the week and there were no footprints around the body. Sherriff Joe Cornwall stood by his car on the paved road a few yards away from where they’d found the body.
“I hate days like this,” he muttered. Probably so did the victim. His cellphone went off; nobody seemed to use the radio in his car anymore. “Hello…yeah…he was holding what?”
Sherriff Cornwall had never liked being in the new hospital, especially the room used by the County Coroner. Especially with a corpse under a sheet on a table. The coroner usually dealt with farm accidents and, last year, the two kids who had gotten drunk and raced each other out of the Quickie-Mart parking lot. This was his first murder.
“That’s right Joe,” said Dr. Harrison. “We found this clutched in his hand. We had to pry the hand open”
“A beard trimmer?” the Sherriff asked.
Cornwall stared at the small trimmer. He’d never used one. And he’d never taken one out to the field with him.
“Well, now we know Ervine wasn’t killed in the middle of the field,” Cornwall said. “He must have grabbed this when he realized what was going to happen.”
“As a weapon?” Dr. Harrison asked. “And how’d he get in that field? There weren’t any footprints in the mud!”
“That part’s easy,” Cornwall said. “Somebody drove a combine on the road by the field and swung the unloading tube over it to drop him in it. Probably had a rope of some kind that tied him fast, lowered him enough and dropped him. That way they created enough of a mystery. It had to have been done at night, and probably by someone nearby. You know the only people bordering his land?”
“Old Man Collier, Zach Zebrowski and Billy Viers.” Doctor Harrison said.
“He ever quarrel with them?”
“Yes, with all three,” Harrison said. “They were in here a year ago after the four of them got into a fight over at The Lazy Bull.”
“Why wasn’t I called?”
“They didn’t press charges. They’ve been at it for years. Ervine’s Granddad left him the property and he others say he’d cheated them out of it; that it had been part of each of the other’s land once.” Harrison said. “Another time I heard them arguing at the gas station, could barely hear it over that loud rock music Ervine was playing in his car.”
“Rock music…” the Sherriff muttered. “Hold the fort here, Doc; I have to make a call. I think I found a killer.”
It was later when Sherriff Cornwall found time to come back and explain everything to Doctor Harrison.
“Well, he’s in jail, even if Old Man Collier wanted to confess himself,” Cornwall said.
“It was the beard trimmer that clinched it. The killer must have gotten into the house and confronted Ervine with a gun. Ervine wasn’t a big man; he wouldn’t have been able to overpower anybody who was armed, so he grabbed the beard trimmer. Only it wasn’t a weapon, it was a message.”
“All that rock music Ervine was always playing? Ever see that band with the three guys with two of them in long grey beards and dark glasses? Beards? Like in beard trimmer?”
“I think I saw them on T.V….”
“Z Z Top,” Cornwall said. “And that corresponded to a name of someone he knew; his killer.”
“Zach Zebrowski.” Harrison breathed.
Cornwell nodded. “He confessed. He’d planned it for weeks. Even drove his combine up and down the road a few nights ago to see exactly how long it would take.” He shook his head. “Want to hear something funny?”
“I could use it,” said the doctor.
“That band, Z Z Top, the one band member without a beard?”
Cornwell smiled. “His name’s Beard.”