All Stories, Crime/Mystery/Thriller

For Love of a Three-Legged Horse by Marco Etheridge

The interrogation room is like any other. This one happens to be inside the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office in Nashville. A steel table occupies the middle of the room, legs bolted to the floor. Two chairs face each other across the scarred tabletop. The chairs are secured to the floor as well, for good reason and from accumulated bitter experience.

The walls are smothered in a dull institutional green that does not exist in the natural world. The air smells of stale coffee, old sweat, and fear. One of the chairs is empty. The other is not.

A woman of about sixty, a halo of grey hair, wearing an orange jumpsuit and orange crocs. She looks like someone’s grandma, except for the manacles locking her bony ankles to the chair legs. She is sitting perfectly still, hands in her lap, waiting. She knows the drill.

A deputy sheriff enters the room, closes the door behind himself. He’s in plain-clothes, is middle-aged, gone thick around the middle, a bit grey at the temples. A heavy folder dangles from one meaty hand.

He walks to the empty chair, slides the folder onto the table, and takes a seat. The woman opposite him does not look up, has not moved since he walked into the room. He sighs, slips a finger under the folder’s cover, and flips it open.

— Afternoon, Ma’am. My name is Deputy Carson. I need to ask you a few questions, try to get some kinda handle on what we’re dealing with here.

No response from the suspect.

— Ma’am, are you with me?

That brings her head up, and a wicked grin as well.

— With you, Deputy Carson? Do you mean that in the biblical sense? Your friends behind the mirror, are they going to watch?

Carson doesn’t rattle that easily.

— Could you please state your name?

Those grey eyebrows go up and down, just a flicker.

— My name is Edith Garrud and I’ve done nothing wrong.

Deputy Carson nods his head, leans forward to read the first page of the folder.

— An interesting name, Miz Garrud. Not a common one here in Nashville. I take it you’re named after the famous English suffragette.

The woman erupts in a cackling laugh that fills the room.

— Just my luck to draw a cop that reads history. Or did you have to google it?

The deputy lets it pass, drops his eyes to the file, reads from it.

— Joyce McKinney, age approximately fifty-eight.

— Ah, ya got me, copper.

A pretty fair Jimmy Cagney if Cagney had an English accent, somewhere outside London.

— Miz McKinney, are you a US citizen?

– Me, a Yank? Not bloody likely, sonny.

Carson taps his finger against the file, contemplates picking it up and throwing it at the dark mirror set into the wall beside him. His partner is in there laughing, glad she hasn’t drawn the short straw on this crazy bitch. The Fed, he’s not laughing. They never do. Shit.

— The reason you’re here, Miz McKinney, is that you’ve been charged with criminal incitement. Specifically, criminal incitement to commit burglary. It says here you convinced a seventeen-year-old youth to burgle a house. And that your method of persuasion was sexual in nature.

A big smile on her face now, like a dog eyeing a meaty bone.

— Deputy Carson, may I ask you something?

The man waves a hand in assent.

— If the Good Lord didn’t mean for menfolk to be incited occasionally, why did She make them so gullible?

— So, you’re not denying the charge?

She leans back in her chair, arms crossed. Defiant body language. Carson makes a mental note.

— I burgled no one.

— Yes, but the boy did. He admitted as much. Said you convinced him to do it. Said you needed money to, ah, purchase a prosthetic leg for a horse. Is that right?

— The poor beast only has three. A three-legged horse has a tough time in this world, Deputy Carson. I’m sure you can understand that.

— You sexually coerced a young man to commit a crime. The house he broke into belonged to a circuit court judge. Not the best choice if you’ll pardon me saying so.

The old bat shrugs her shoulders, smiling again.

— A rich judge. It doesn’t do to steal from the poor. First, it’s not right. Second, the poor don’t usually have much to spare.

The finger on the file again: tap, tap, tap.

— Miz McKinney, can you tell me how and when you entered the United States?

— Indeed I can but first, tell me about our invisible audience behind the mirror.

— It’s just a mirror, Ma’am.

— Deputy Carson, shame on you. I may have been birthed at night, but it wasn’t last night. Fine, a guessing game then. I spy, with my little eye, your partner in crime prevention. And beside him or her, a federal agent, perhaps?

Damn this crazy old woman.

— I’m not at liberty to say.

— Liberty, such a lovely word. One you Yanks hold dear. And poor me, a harmless old lady, chained to a chair with no liberty at all. It’s a cold world, Deputy Carson.

— I was asking how you entered the US, Ma’am.

— I do love that Southern politeness, Deputy. Ma’am and Miz, all quite proper. Well then, since we are being polite, I came to the colonies by ship.

— And did you obtain a visa, or go through immigration?

Again with that crooked smile. Carson searches his memory for a perp more annoying than this old bird and comes up empty.

— May I trouble you for a cup of tea? I am absolutely parched.

Carson suppresses a sigh, risks a glance at the mirror. She notes the glance and smiles.

— Thank you, you’re very kind. Immigration? No, I’ve never been fond of formalities. Such a fuss and bother.

— Then you admit to entering the United States illegally?

— I suppose so, in a legal sense that is. But aren’t we all citizens of the world, Deputy Carson?

Ignore her, John. Get this done, then turn her over to the feds. With any luck, they’ll deport her by morning.

— You arrived in the US from South Korea. Is that correct, Miz McKinney?

— Just so. Lovely country.

— And you did not arrive alone.

— Ah, you’re speaking of the dogs. Wonderful beasts, and all of them the spitting image of each other. It was quite comical to see them all together. Such cute puppies.

— Yes, five pitbull puppies smuggled into the US from South Korea. The products of an illegal cloning operation. South Korean law enforcement has expressed a strong interest in your case.

— It’s so nice to be wanted. Don’t you think so?

— I wouldn’t know, Ma’am. What happened to the dogs?

— Oh, they were sold to a collector here in the States. For quite a fair price. Imagine, five dogs so alike the new owner couldn’t tell one from another.

— Right. So much for the dogs. We’ll leave that one for the Koreans to sort out. But they’re not the only ones interested in your past. You are still a UK citizen, I believe.

— I am indeed. I was born just outside of Birmingham.

— And you fled England to avoid trial, did you not?

— Ah, such a long time ago. That is very much ancient history.

— The National Crime Agency does not consider it to be history. They have requested extradition rights. As have the South Koreans. The US maintains extradition treaties with both countries. There’s a bit of a tussle going on as to who gets first dibs on you.

Laughing, that horrible laugh again. Damn her to hell and whichever foreign country claims her first.

The door opens and his partner, Deputy Gaines, steps into the room. A tall black woman bearing a styrofoam cup. Gaines steps to the table and places the tea in front of the perp.

— Here you are, Miz McKinney. I guessed one sugar.

The old biddy beams at her.

— Lovely, thank you so much.

Gaines shoots a smirk at her partner, a smirk he will make her regret. Then she’s out of the room and the door clicks behind her.

The old lady sips her tea, her eyes glinting over the styrofoam. Her mouth is moving before the cup finds the tabletop.

— Lucky you, to work with such a statuesque partner. And did I detect a bit of a spark there?

Lord, give me strength. He prays that Gaines is on her way to the john or something. If she’s behind the mirror hearing this shit, there’ll be no end to the abuse.

— You did not detect anything, Miz McKinney.

— Ah, more’s the pity then.

— England, Ma’am. I was asking you about England. You were charged with abduction. Following discovery and charges, you fled the country. This would have been in 1989 according to your file.

Nodding at him again, smiling that crazy book club smile.

— Those were vibrant times. But really, Deputy Carson, abduction? I was a young woman of twenty-five. How would I go about abducting anyone? Much more likely that I would be the one abducted. It happened all the time back then, at least if one believed the tabloids.

— Yes, that’s correct. Twenty-five years of age when charges were brought. You allegedly kidnapped a Mormon missionary and held him as, ah, a sex slave. Held him for a period of six months.

Now she’s shaking her head, which is worse than the goddamn smiling. Like this is a fond trip down her bizarre memory lane.

— Miz, McKinney, these are very serious charges.

— Of course, Deputy, of course. It’s just that I couldn’t help myself, you see. The image of me, just a slip of a girl, overpowering that big, burly missionary boy. It’s ludicrous.

— Are you denying the charges against you?

— No, no, you misunderstand me. I’m saying I did not overpower him. I chloroformed him once I had him in the door.

— Then you did abduct the boy and imprison him?

— Certainly, I abducted him. As you would have if he’d arrived on your doorstep. Not you personally, of course, you being a man and all. Though who knows these days. As far as holding him a prisoner, that is debatable. True, I kept him chained up the first few days. But once he shook off his religious shackles, there was no need for real chains.

— I’m not sure I understand.

— My dear Deputy Carson, what could be simpler? I chained the hunky lad to my bed. The clothing flew from his body, as it did from mine. After a few days of good solid romping, the scales quite naturally fell from the boy’s eyes. I admit he was my sex slave, but quite a willing one. The rest of that nonsense was his family’s doing. Once they found him, that is.

 Carson is surprised to feel his fingers kneading the bridge of his nose. He catches himself, drops his hand to the file in front of him, and flips a few pages.

— If I understand this correctly, you admit to the charges in South Korea and England. Those charges are outside the jurisdiction of Davidson County. Let’s see if we can make some sense of the local charges, shall we?

— By all means, Deputy.

— It says here that you were living at a farm outside of Nashville. Were you a guest at this farm?

— I was a caretaker of a sort, looking after the dear old man who owns the farm.

— And the young man in question, the alleged burglar, he also worked at the farm?

— Yes, a dear boy. He tended to the horses.

— Horses that included the three-legged horse?

— Well yes, but at that point, it had all four of its legs.

What did I do to deserve this? A hit-and-run, an ax-murderer, anyone but this ruthless woman.

— Go on. Please.

— I am partly to blame for the horse losing its leg. As I said, the youth, as you refer to him, was a hired hand. But instead of tending to his duties with the horses, he was spending a bit of time with me instead. An unfortunate accident occurred, preventable I’m afraid, with the result that the poor animal suffered the loss of its leg.

— Then you took it upon yourself to convince the youth to burglarize the judge’s house.

— That is correct. I was quite fond of that horse, you see. Loved it, in fact.

Carson reaches out and flips the file closed. He glances at the mirror, one quick glance and no more.

— One thing bothers me, Miz McKinney. You’ve been in this country, illegally as we have established, for approximately six years. Did you work during that time?

— Not in the sense of regular employment, no. I confess that I am not suited for the daily grind of what you Yanks call the nine-to-five.

— Then how did you survive?

— On my talents, Deputy Carson. I survived on my wits and my talents.

— And what talents would those be.

That goddamned screeching laugh again, and he wants to shoot her and be done with it. Before he can figure out if it’s worth it, she stops dead and stares at him.

— You haven’t been paying attention, Deputy. I could give you a demonstration if you like. Be happy to, as a matter of fact. These manacles are a bit of a bother, but luckily I’ve some experience with chains. Though we might want to find something to cover that mirror. We wouldn’t want to upset that Amazon partner of yours. But perhaps you have a bit of the exhibitionist hidden behind your badge.

Carson pushes himself from the chair, reaches for the file on the table. He has to leave, right now, or he will shoot her where she sits.

— We’re done here, Miz McKinney. Someone will be in shortly to escort you back to your cell.

And then he’s gone, fleeing the room as fast as he can without running. The door slams shut behind him.

Joyce McKinney stares at the empty chair across the table. She smiles, reaches up, and runs her fingers through her halo of grey hair. She turns to the mirror on the wall, raises one arm, and gives the unseen viewers a perfect parade wave. Her greeting done, she drops her hands into her lap and sits perfectly still.

Marco Etheridge

Image: Google images.

9 thoughts on “For Love of a Three-Legged Horse by Marco Etheridge”

  1. This is great – she is an excellent character. I loved her deviance, defiance, and dismissiveness. The dialogue is superb throughout. I loved this, what I thought is a brilliantly twisted story. I’m actually watching season 4 of Ozark at the moment and this made me think of the Darlene Snell character.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My memory is dim, but the sex slave Mormon was a news item perhaps thirty years ago. The abducter caused penis erection by manipulation I think. He did not voluntarily cooperate, but somethings are not volitional. Yes, a horrible and intriguing woman.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Funny! Maybe they should’ve let Gaines do the interview. Carson’s easily triggered, maybe should quit police work and go operate a backhoe, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I like the description of the grandmother, she knows the rap is something only Kafka could make up, and I think that’s why she’s so theatrical…. she knows she’s playing to an audience. It’s intriguing, if the sex roles were reversed, the piece would have a whole other meaning and tone.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Marco,
    We have had a few stories that are based on real events but they are tainted by the real events being twisted for inclusion of the fictional story.
    However, what carries this from that and beyond into genius territory is the use of the dialogue. It was believable, unnerving, entertaining, interesting and very voyeuristic. (Hmm, me using dialogue with the term voyeuristic is a bit of a contradiction in terms – But you know what I mean!)
    I may sound a bit twisted when I say that your story is as intriguing as the lady herself!
    Whether she was evil, misjudged or whatever, she was an interesting human being.
    (As a youngster, I did think about joining the Mormons and keeping my fingers crossed!!!)
    I think this maybe my favourite story of yours (Till now!) and you don’t make this choice easy with the quality of ALL your work!
    This is a brilliant example on having the confidence to let the dialogue tell the story!!!
    Superb my fine friend!!!!!!
    Hugh

    Liked by 1 person

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