The Farm Fires
The Farm Fires
"Twenty feet north and this would have been Lyle Benson's problem," Matt Gardner said, turning in disgust from the body in the drainage ditch. "Goddam Depression, putting people on the road goin' to nowhere."
Standing behind Matt, and knowing better than to comment on his boss's running commentary on the lousy state of the country's economy, Policeman Jim Stevenson waited patiently for the Woodhill, Ohio police chief to issue his orders.
Matt ran a hand through his blond-turning-gray hair. Since his fifty-eighth birthday in March, Matt's waistline had gotten bigger than he liked, but at six-foot-two, he was still an imposing figure, and according to some, still a very handsome man. As usual, an unlit Havana Perfection cigar dangled from the corner of his mouth. "Did you get a statement from the guy who saw the horse?"
"Yessir. He said it just wandered onto the road and he swerved to miss it, and the horse ran back into the cornfield." Jim pointed to a lane between two plantings of corn, where his fellow officer, Giles Hessing, was holding onto the reins of a small, scraggly gold-colored horse. Every time the horse moved its head the slightest bit, Giles leaped away. Even at this distance Jim could see sweat glistening on Giles' face and dark patches expanding on his shirt. Giles was definitely not pleased with his current assignment. Jim was tempted to razz him about being a hitching post like the iron ones people put on their lawns, but he resisted the impulse, fearing Matt would make him change places with Giles.
Matt's immediate concern was the body in the ditch, so he made an effort to ignore Giles' protests. It was only the third week in June and the corn didn't have much growth on it yet, but enough tender corn stalks had been trampled, along with the grass on the lane being grazed down to the ground, to indicate the horse had stayed close to the spot where his rider fell off. Judging from the way maggots covered the man's body, that could have happened up to a week ago. The maggots' frenzied writhing made it appear that the man was alive because his clothes billowed and waved as the maggots ate their way through him. The only things left on the man's skull were a patch of brown hair and part of an ear. The stench of rotting flesh rose from the ditch, but fortunately, a westerly breeze was blowing the odor away from the road. Matt glanced at his watch, muttered, "Damn, it's three o'clock," then called over to Giles, "Look in those saddle bags, see if there's anything to identify the guy." To Jim, he said, "Go back to town and get Freddy Pratter out here to take photographs, then go to Laura Darvey's farm and see if she can board the horse until we figure out who the guy is and where he came from."
Captain Freddy Pratter strolled to the front of the Woodhill Fire Department apparatus floor, where all three bay doors were open. Now that the sun had passed overhead and the front of the station was shaded, Freddy felt the beginnings of a breeze. He leaned against the front bumper of Engine 2, a 1930 Ahrens-Fox pumper, and crossed his arms on his chest. It was relaxing to watch the traffic on Court Street. A few cars and delivery trucks passed by and people walked in and out of Rosenfeld's Department Store and Mercy Drug, on the other side of the street. Also across the street was the First United Presbyterian Church and next to First United was the Mason's Hall, with Sylvia's Lunch Bar on the street level. Then came Rosenfeld's and Mercy Drug, a single building divided into two sections with apartments on the second and third stories. In two of the apartments women were washing windows. Freddy settled lazily into watching the comings and goings, and was close to dozing off when Hank, the red and white hound who had adopted the firefighters a couple of years ago, came up beside him.
"Hoooohooommaa," Hank yawne