“Minority Report,” Nation, 3/13/89
Short Fiction/Final Part
Betty’s grave site in Cedar Hill Cemetery is on a lovely maple-shaded slope of perfect grass. It is early autumn in the mountains, the leaves bright red and yellow, the sky Kodachrome blue with small white clouds hugging the horizon. As the mourners dismount from the line of cars parked along the paved path winding through the hilly graveyard, a soft breeze stirs the leaves. It seems only fair that Betty’s final home is a resting place so serene, so quiet, so pure—especially considering that her short life had been a constant whirl and blur of frantic drug induced action. Betty’s service is attended by local friends and family, plus several strangers, mostly men, but also a few thin party girls like herself—all of them from small towns within a fifty mile radius. They were Betty’s good-timing friends and they can’t believe that such a powerful life force has so suddenly been removed from their mist.
To Bernie’s surprise Helen encourages him to attend Betty’s funeral. She volunteers to come herself. She even brings the kids. Helen reassures Bernie there are, in her words, “No hard feelings considering how the situation has turned out and all.” If Bernie is suspicious of Helen’s behavior he doesn’t let on, realizing that it’s best not to go into too much detail about her sudden interest in seeing the woman she calls his “old friend” off to the hereafter “for the last time.” Either he completely misses Helen’s subtle sarcastic tone, or just assumes that his perfect wife is being her usual forgiving self. Chuck is at the funeral, too, of course, crying full-out like he does when anyone dies—even people he only knows from reading their newspaper obits. Chuck, for all his wastrel ways, is, as Fred likes to say, “a sensitive dude.” Fred, Bernie’s high school buddy and town sheriff, looking sheepish and naked without his sidearm, is also in attendance.
The newspaper account of the circumstances surrounding Betty’s death had speculated that it was open and shut, “a drug bust gone bad,” simple as that. This, despite the fact that rumors circulating around town suggested Fred may have used unnecessary deadly force in the exercise of his duties. The mere sight of Fred, the lawman responsible for the demise of their childhood playmate, inflamed several of Betty’s male cousins and there was a brief scuffle. The boys were escorted off the cemetery grounds by three of Fred’s uniformed and well-armed police officers.
Fred’s version of what happened during the raid at Chuck’s place is simple, at least on the face of it. At the inquest he testified that the drug dealer had reached for what he—Fred—thought had to be a gun. (It was later determined the only “weapon” the dealer had on him was an Italian sausage he was bringing home to his wife in a brown paper sack.) Fred claimed that, fearing for his life, he had fired in haste, and was most apologetic about poor Betty being so unfortunate to have been standing where she was. The police department impounded Fred’s .38 and assigned him desk duty for the duration of the internal investigation. At the time of Betty’s interment they had not found any holes in Fred’s story—no smoking gun, so to speak—so the consensus in town was that he would be restored to full duty in a week or two, or as soon as passions cooled somewhat, whichever came first.
After the last prayer is recited over Betty’s grave, and the last ritual handful of dirt dropped onto the casket lid, the funeral party and guests head to their cars so the professional grave diggers can close up. Going up the shaded path, Bernie holds the hand of his son, the boy holds his younger sister’s hand, and Helen has the little girl’s other hand in hers. Fred passes the family on the way to his unmarked patrol car, and for a brief instant Bernie thinks he sees his old friend wink at Helen. He does see Fred smile at her, and Helen smiles back. Bernie says nothing. In the car on the way home, Helen says, “Bernard, sweetheart, I don’t feel the least bit like cookin’ tonight. Swear I don’t. What say you take your little family to Carvelli’s for pizza and then to see a picture show at the Visulite?”
Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.