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Bone Soup
About the Author: Michael Bracken is the author of several books and more than 1,300 short stories, including crime fiction published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, and The Best American Mystery Stories.


Sheriff Sherri Fine stood inside the Chicken Junction High School gymnasium, arms folded beneath her breasts, and listened with growing revulsion as Senate candidate Clayton Holms railed against the godless heathens of the opposing party. Two of her deputies, both off duty, were in the audience paying rapt attention. Two others with similar political leanings were cruising the county.

Her radio crackled. “Sheriff?”

She thumbed her radio. “Go ahead.”

“You need to see this,” said Deputy Carl Smith. “We got us a dead body.”

The Senate candidate no longer held Fine’s attention. As she headed for the door, she asked, “Where you at?”

“Devil’s Canyon Creek Road. Twelve miles west of the highway.”

“On my way.”

In the entire history of Arroyo County, no one from her party, let alone a woman, had ever served as sheriff. No one expected Sherri Fine to be elected, not even the local party loyalists who had put her name on the ballot. When her multi-term predecessor had died of a heart attack on election eve, it was too late for his party to replace him, so his supporters sat out the election while hers did not. Fine bested the dead man by a single vote.

Born and raised in Waco, Fine moved to Chicken Junction, Texas, following graduation from McLennan Community College with a paralegal/associate of applied science degree, earned in her late twenties after too many years spent behind the counters of various fast food joints. Her entire law enforcement experience prior to swearing in as sheriff consisted of a single year working in the Arroyo County district attorney’s office, and the deputies in her department—all but one of whom had voted for the dead candidate—did not take kindly to her assumption of the late sheriff’s duties.

The one deputy who hadn’t supported the dead man was waiting for Fine when she arrived at a derelict pole barn a mile up a dirt road that intersected with Devil’s Canyon Creek Road twelve miles west of the highway. The road once served as the private drive for the long-abandoned Latham Ranch. She parked her department-issued SUV next to Deputy Smith’s, not far from a pickup truck long past its prime. As she climbed out, Smith approached and greeted her by touching the brim of his Stetson with the tip of his finger.

“Sheriff.”

She nodded once in acknowledgement. “What do you have, Carl?”

“J.P. over there”—he cocked a thumb toward a weathered octogenarian standing off to the side—“was picking for treasure and found a body instead.”

“Show me.”

Deputy Smith led the sheriff into the barn where she took one look at the scattered bones and said, “That ain’t a body.”

“Was once.”

“You touch anything?”

“No, ma’am.”

She glanced out of the barn toward the old man. “What about him?”

“Says he didn’t. Once he recognized the bones for what they were, J.P. called Maybelle and she sent me to take a look-see.”

“What was he doing out here?”

“Picking.”

She waited in silence until Deputy Smith explained.

“Pickers like him rummage through abandoned buildings, looking for anything they can sell for profit—old denim, jewelry, bottles, metal signs, and the like. Half the stuff in the new antiques shop in Quarryville came out of places like this. City people eat this crap up.”

“Take J.P.’s statement, get his contact information and send him on his way,” Fine told her deputy as she unclipped her iPhone. “I’ll see if I can find us a CSI.”



This story appears in our AUG 2020 Issue
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