The Best American Mystery Stories 2012

The Best American Mystery Stories 2012 by Otto Penzler

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Authors: Otto Penzler
returned home, as Hef Givens instructed her to do, and packed Blue’s personal belongings into two boxes, which she placed on the porch, along with a suitcase filled with his clothes. She took the children to Carol Lippincott’s house. Then she called the sheriff and requested that a deputy be sent to escort Blue away when he arrived home.
    The sheriff’s office had already received a call from Hef Givens, and no one there relished this assignment. They didn’t appreciate domestic situations, since those were often the only dangerous ones in Charnelle. Not many people were injured with criminal intent in the county unless, experience had taught Sheriff Britwork, they were on the receiving end of a love gone sour. In 1949 there was very little by way of criminal activity at all in Charnelle, so Sheriff Britwork and his four officers spent most of their time at the Ding Dong Daddy Diner, drinking coffee and munching onion rings, or hanging out at the high school football and basketball games to prevent adolescent brawls, or cruising through Mexican Town to make sure the residents knew that someone was keeping a suspicious eye on them. There were also no divorces recorded in Charnelle during the previous six years, even if a majority of marriages, by Britwork’s estimation, were not happy ones. Sometimes a couple would separate temporarily, or a man would run off with a mistress for a while, or a wife would run off with her husband’s best friend, only to return a few days or weeks later. These incidents seldom resulted in divorce. Acrimony, certainly, and a malignant resentment. Sometimes shots were fired or knives wielded or suicides threatened. But seldom divorce.
    The sheriff sent Fortney Nevers, the pudgy twenty-year-old deputy, out to the Simpson home to oversee the proceedings. This wasn’t a kind assignment on the part of the sheriff, but Britwork had a root canal performed that very morning—the fourth of what would eventually be six surgeries—and he was not in a generous mood. He didn’t want to be the one dealing with a marital dispute, especially between Blue and Loretta Simpson. He had known them since they first moved to Charnelle. The sheriff and his wife had even played pinochle with the Simpsons a time or two before both couples were besieged by children. Britwork would now and again shoot a game of pool with Blue down at the Armory, but since Blue’s accident a few years ago, the two families seldom saw each other, and that was just fine with the sheriff. Blue Simpson carried his misfortune and self-pity around like a virus, and the sheriff didn’t want to catch it.
    Besides, it would serve Fortney Nevers right. The young deputy annoyed the sheriff. The boy’s fatness was particularly galling to Britwork, a man with the metabolism of a greyhound, who harbored an unreasonable prejudice against the portly.
    â€œNevers ain’t old enough,” Britwork once told his other officers, within earshot of the deputy, “to have earned the right to be fat.”
    The sheriff had been forced to hire the twenty-year-old because Fortney’s uncle was the Honorable Cleavis Nevers, the county judge. Given the irritable mood the root canal had fostered in Britwork, he half hoped that Blue Simpson might beat the shit out of the young deputy—not badly enough to inflict serious injury, of course, but enough to persuade the pudgy kid to give up on police work.
    Months later, at Fortney Nevers’s trial, the sheriff would change his tune. He would testify that the deputy was a model policeman, and that he had been confident Fortney could handle the assignment when he sent him to the Simpsons’ house that day. The sheriff would tell the court that he was sure the boy had warned Blue Simpson not to take another step, and that he had fired the shot only to scare the man. The jury would acquit Fortney Nevers, in large part because of their fondness for

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