Excerpt from Murder Under A Bad Moon

CHAPTER ONE


Mona was in the fields checking on the foals with Kenesaw Mountain, her new farm manager, when Jamison drove up in a truck.  “Miss Mona, you gotta come with me now.”

“What’s the problem?”

Not wanting to say in front of Kenesaw, Jamison repeated, “Come on, now.”

Alarmed, Mona asked, “Has someone been hurt?”

“Not that kind of hurt,” Jamison replied.

“Sorry, Kenesaw.  I’ve got to go.  Finish with the foals,” Mona said, jumping into the truck. She didn’t have time to complete her instructions as Jamison tore off, leaving ruts in the pristine field.

“Jamison, what is the matter?” Mona asked, holding onto the dashboard for dear life.

“Sheriff Monahan is at Moon Manor with a warrant for your arrest.”

Astonished, Mona said, “That’s crazy. Whatever for?”

“Sure ’nough crazy, but he’s got his men looking for you.  Miss Jetta has called Mr. Deatherage and told me to hide you good until he can get here.”

“Where are we going?”

“My sister’s house in Bracktown.”

The truck found a bump in the road, and Mona’s head hit the roof of the cab.  Exasperated, she said “I still don’t know what this is about.  Why does Sheriff Monahan want to arrest me?”

“He says you done kilt Judge Garrett.”

Mona gasped, “You mean Judge Garrett is dead?”

“Dead as dead can be.  Sheriff Monahan says you done it.

Garrett was found by the Kentucky River.  Miss Mona, that man was so mean, even dead, the waters of the river spat him out.”

“Don’t tell me. On the banks of Mooncrest Farm.”

“Yes’am.”

“Perhaps he fell into the river fishing, drowned, and was swept with the current.”

“I don’t think so, Miss.”

“Why not?”

“Because Judge Garrett was missing his head.”

“Oh, dear.  Sounds ghastly.”

“And that ain’t all.  His head was found in a bucket near one of our feed sheds. You is in trouble, Miss Mona, and so is everyone who works for y’all.  They’ll pin the blame on one of us working folk as your compatriot.  Just wait and see.  Sheriff Monahan is dirty as dirt.”

Mona leaned back in her seat, taking in Jamison’s information.  She wasn’t surprised Garrett was dead or that someone had murdered him.  Judge Garrett was a nasty piece of work.  His wife left him, his children disowned him, and his neighbors despised him.  Even his dog loathed him.

It was the dog that had started Mona’s battle with Judge Garrett.

That damn dog.

CHAPTER TWO


“Stop!”

Jamison stepped on the brakes and both were thrown forward.  Catching his breath, he pulled over onto a grassy bank and looked curiously at Mona.

“I know you’re trying to help but hiding makes me look guilty and a coward.  Take me back, Jamison.”

“Sheriff Monahan don’t need evidence to take you in.”

“So I’ve heard.  I’ve run into trouble before.  I can handle myself.”

Jamison turned the truck around.  “I hope so, but the South is different, Miss.  People here don’t cotton to Yankees, and they carry grudges for a long time.  The Southern memory is long, and payback is violent.”

Mona attempted to calm Jamison’s fears.  “Corruption is everywhere, even up North, but I have something up my sleeve.  I have several friends who work on newspapers, and if I am unjustly arrested, they will write about it.  I doubt Sheriff Monahan will want my arrest written about in the press.”

“Yes’am.  I sure hope you’re right.”

“I thank you for your concern, Jamison.”

Jamison didn’t reply, but drove up the long driveway to Moon Manor until he stopped before the front door.

Sheriff Monahan stood in the open doorway with a deputy arguing with Thomas, Mona’s butler, who was blocking the entrance.

Mona stepped out of the truck.  “Sheriff, how nice to see you.”

“Your boy here was telling me that you was gone, Miss Moon,” Sheriff Monahan accused.

Mona could hardly hide her revulsion.  Before her stood a man who was the creature of the kingpin of Lexington––Billy Klair.  Sheriff Monahan wouldn’t be on her doorstep if Billy Klair hadn’t have given the say so.  He ran everything and everyone in Lexington.

Monahan reeked of sweat, his teeth were stained from tobacco juice, his face looked florid from drinking bootlegged whiskey, and his fat belly flowed over his belt.  But he was clean shaven, his beige uniform crisp, and his badge shiny.

“One of my men fetched me.  Please come in and have some lemonade.  It’s so warm for a fall day.”  Mona turned to her butler.  “Thomas, please fetch us some refreshments.”

She passed the two lawmen and beckoned them into Moon Manor, showing them into the library.  “Please sit.”

“I’d rather stand.”

“Suit yourself, Sheriff.  Isn’t it customary for men to take off their hats inside, even in the South?”

Monahan stubbornly ignored Mona’s request.  “I’m here on official business, ma’am.”

“It’s miss, Sheriff.  How may I help you?”

At that moment, Jetta Dressler rushed in with a pad and pencil, taking a seat by the window.

Chloe, Mona’s standard-sized poodle, trotted behind Jetta, but upon seeing Mona rushed over wagging her tail in greeting.  She sat next to Mona and leaned against her legs, looking up at her expectantly.  Mona reached down and scratched her ears.

“What’s she doing?” Sheriff Monahan asked, looking suspiciously at Jetta, who made squiggly lines on the pad.

“This is Miss Dressler, my secretary.  I make it a policy that any official meeting with me must be recorded in case there is any confusion about who said what.  Miss Dressler knows shorthand.  She’ll be transcribing everything we say.  Is this an official meeting, Sheriff?”

“What do you know about Judge Garrett’s death?”

Mona feigned surprise.  “Landis Garrett is dead?  This is terrible news.  Sheriff, I insist you sit down and tell me what happened.”

“I want to know what you had to do with it.”

Mona pressed her hand against her heart. “Me?  Why should I know anything about the man’s death?  Ah, here are our refreshments.”

Thomas laid a tray of finger sandwiches and sweet iced tea on a table and handed the sheriff and his deputy a tall glass.  Seeing the guests were served, he stood by the door, not wanting to leave Mona with the two men.

Sheriff  Monahan put his glass on the table. His deputy followed suit while Mona pretended not to notice.

Mona heard the front door open as Thomas went to greet whoever had just entered.

Dexter Deatherage strode into the library looking peevish but he hid it quickly, shaking the sheriff’s hand.  “Hello, Miss Mona.  Sheriff Monahan.  Miss Jetta.  Deputy.  Am I interrupting a social call?”

Mona said, “I don’t know.  Sheriff Monahan was just about to explain how Landis Garrett died.”

“So Landis Garrett finally got his?  Doesn’t surprise me.  Half the town hated him,” Dexter said, standing close to Sheriff Monahan.

“That’s not a nice thing to say about Judge Garrett,” Sheriff Monahan said, narrowing his eyes at Deatherage.

Glaring back at the sheriff, Dexter replied, “Landis wasn’t a nice man.”

“You seem to assume Landis Garrett was murdered, Mr. Deatherage.  How do you come by that opinion?”

“I wrangled with Landis yesterday in court about water rights on the west side of Mooncrest Farm.  He was blocking a stream which was flooding onto Miss Mona’s property during heavy rains.  He looked fit as a fiddle, so unless he had a massive heart attack, I’d say someone did him in.”

“As I understand it, the two of you came to blows.”

Dexter chuckled.  “Nothing so dramatic, Sheriff.  A blow of words maybe.  Everybody knows Landis resented Miss Mona and was causing her grief because she stopped him from beating his dog.”

“You stole that dog, didn’t you, Miss Mona?”

Mona said, “I took the dog to our vet.  What happened to the dog after that, I don’t know.  I paid Landis for what the dog was worth and apologized.  I hadn’t realized Kentucky had no law keeping men from beating their dogs, or their horses, or their wives for that matter.”  Mona’s implication hung in the air.

“Judge Garrett pressed charges of theft on you.”

“I thought that very rude, especially after I had paid him for the dog.  But the case was thrown out of court for lack of evidence, especially after I produced a bill of sale for the dog in Garrett’s own handwriting.”

“I hear it caused bad blood between the two of you.”

“It certainly didn’t cause us to have tea together on a regular basis.”

“You tried to buy his farm.”

“I did make an offer, but Garrett refused.”

“And that made you mad.”

“It certainly annoyed me, but I also made an offer to purchase Lord Farley’s farm on the other side of me, and he’s refused.  Farley’s still alive or so I’ve read in the newspapers.  I don’t have the habit of killing people who say no to me.  I just find another way to get what I want.”

“When was the last time you saw Judge Garrett?”

“I haven’t laid eyes on Garrett since I stopped him from beating his dog with a riding crop.  Mr. Deatherage has handled all contact with him since.”

“On my counsel,” Dexter added.

“How do you explain Judge Garrett was found dead on your property?”

“Was he?”  Mona looked astounded.  “Where?”

“He was thrown up on the sandbar near your boat dock.”

“Thrown up?  You mean he had been in the river?”

Sheriff Monahan nodded.

“Well, Sheriff.  You must look for your culprit further upstream.  He lives downstream from me.  The Kentucky River doesn’t flow backwards.  Someone upstream must have killed him.  And how do you know he was even murdered?  Landis could have been fishing, fallen in, and drowned.  Did you check to see if he had been drinking?  Such accidents happen all the time.”

“It would have been hard to tell, Miss Mona, since Judge Garrett had been decapitated.”

Jetta looked up from her pad and gasped.

Sheriff Monahan threw a glance at her.  “That’s right for you to be shocked, Miss.  Terrible business.”

“Ghastly,” Mona said.

“It looked like someone had taken an ax to him.”

“This is terrible news.  I didn’t like the man, but I wouldn’t wish anyone to go out that way,” Mona said.

“So you admit you hated Judge Garrett?”

“I admit no such thing.  I have a question for you.  Hazel left Garrett six months ago after he broke her arm during a quarrel.  Why didn’t you arrest him for assaulting his wife?”

The deputy shot a quick look at the sheriff and shifted his feet.  He was obviously embarrassed at Mona’s insinuation of the sheriff’s dereliction of duty.

“There was no evidence the judge was responsible for his wife’s broken arm.”

Dexter scoffed, “I would think Mrs. Garrett would know how her arm got broken, Sheriff.”

“She was just an angry wife making senseless accusations.”

“Like I said, Sheriff, Kentucky has no laws against beating one’s wife,” Mona said.

“I’m the one asking the questions here,” Monahan said, trying to regain the upper hand against Mona and Dexter. “You said you haven’t seen Judge Garrett the last couple of days, Miss Mona?”

“I told you I haven’t seen Landis Garrett for months.  Not after the dog incident.”

“How do you explain his head being found in a bucket near one of your feed sheds?”

“I don’t.  I have no explanation other than someone planted his head there.”

“Where were you, Dexter?”

“I have a complete record of my whereabouts for the past week.  When was Landis murdered?”

“The coroner’s report hasn’t come in yet.”

“Until the report is finished, I am going to call a halt to these questions.”

“It’s my job,” Monahan protested.

Dexter asked, “Have you found the ax?”

“Not yet.”

“So you don’t even know an ax was used.  You’re just making wild accusations.”

Sheriff Monahan turned to Mona.  “I will need to talk to your men.  Half of them were sent to jail by Judge Garrett.”

“We wish to cooperate with you fully, but all my employees will have legal representation when you question them.  You may investigate the area of my property where you found Judge Garrett and the feed shed, but for any other building or area of my property, you must have a warrant.”

“I don’t need no stinkin’ warrant to do my job,” Sheriff Monahan blustered.

Mona stood and smiled.  “Ah, but you do.  Everything must be done in the proper manner.  The Mooncrest Enterprises Board of Directors will insist upon it.  I’m afraid my hands are tied in this matter.”  She looked at her watch.  “Oh, dear.  I must cut this short.  I have a speaking engagement with the League of Women Voters.  Your wife is a member, is she not?”

Sheriff Monahan stood firm.  He didn’t like being dismissed by Mona Moon.  He didn’t like her at all.  She was a Yankee, and besides, he didn’t believe women should be in authority over men.  It was against nature.

“Please excuse me, gentlemen.  I must change.  I certainly don’t want to be late for the luncheon.  They would demand an explanation,” Mona said, making her warning clear.

Sheriff Monahan stood aside as Mona swept past him.

Jetta followed.

“Thomas, show Sheriff Monahan and his deputy out please,” Dexter requested.  He followed the two lawmen and the butler to the front door.

“I’ll be in touch, Dexter,” Monahan warned.

“Until then, give your wife my regards, Sheriff.” Dexter and Thomas stood in the doorway until both men got into their car and drove down the road to the river.  “Thomas, send someone after Kenesaw Mountain and tell him to come to Moon Manor.  We need to have a powwow.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And Thomas.”

“Yes?”

“Send word out to our men to be careful and stay as far away from the sheriff and his men as possible.  Then I want to have a meeting with the house staff.”

“Yes, sir.”

Dexter turned and hurried up the stairs to talk with Mona and caution that she was treading on dangerous ground.

Thomas continued watching the car fade from his sight.  “There goes one mean white man,” he muttered before shutting the front door and locking it.