Chapter 3: Screw the Johnson Boys
Sheriff Kelly Elderton poured the last of the coffee from the pot into a mug, emptied eight packets of sugar, and squirted two pumps of creamer into it. She mixed it quickly to a tan color with a spoon and took a sip. It was sweet, just the way she liked it. She dropped the spoon into a pile of dirty dishes by the sink in the office break room. After a long day spent at Jethro Millie’s farm, investigating a strange occurrence with his cattle, the coffee was an immediate relief. In some strange sudden sickness, they turned wild and aggressive. By the looks of things, it might have been something they drank in the water, as they were finding some discoloration and residue in the spring water on his property. It had been a day of frustration for Millie, as his livelihood was literally dying at his feet. He’d lost twelve cattle in a single day.
Elderton stepped back into her office. She rubbed her neck and stretched it, hoping for a big pop. There were five or six small ones that only helped a little. She sighed and sat down behind her desk. She was going to be glad when the day was over. Turning to look through the blinds on the window, she could see the sun going down. She watched it for a moment. It was a gorgeous sunset. A coffee in hand made it even better.
The phone rang outside of her office. She hoped it was nothing. She was exhausted and needed a good night’s sleep. Walking the back forty with Millie all day wasn’t her idea of fun.
Wendy, her secretary, stepped in. “We gotta call about the Johnson boys running amuck—you want it, or should I dispatch Marvin?”
Wendy, like many in their small town, didn’t take too kindly to having a womanly sheriff. In the beginning, Wendy just did whatever she wanted and never consulted with Elderton about anything. They were all convinced she didn’t know what she was doing. After someone was shot by a drunk patron of the Queasy Saloon, Elderton tore into Wendy hard and heavy. She had been kept completely out of the loop regarding the whole situation. Now, Wendy came to her about everything no matter how miniscule as a form of passive aggression. The Johnson boys were always stirring up trouble, and a racoon could break up their shenanigans. But Wendy stepped in with her passive aggressive voice to both inform and suggest the obvious solution; Marvin was already out patrolling around in his car.
Elderton took a deep breath. She didn’t have much patience left after the long day, and said, “Yes, dispatch Marvin. I’m going home.” Patience be damned. She’d had enough and was leaving five minutes early.
“Yes, ma’am,” Wendy replied with sass in her tone and exited.
What Elderton wanted to tell Wendy was to have Marvin bring the Johnson boys for an overnight stay in the jail cell, and then order them to community service over the weekend. She really wanted to punish the Johnson boys for all the harassment they gave the townspeople of Tipton, but Mayor Kerry Marsden would have none of it. Boys will be boys is what he had told her when she tried to keep them in overnight once for disturbing the peace. Mayor Marsden was longtime friends with their father, Ronnie Johnson, and everybody was all chummy. The town of Tipton was a regular boys club, and she was not a boy. It had been a trial period serving as the first woman sheriff of Tipton.
Elderton could hear Wendy dispatching Marvin over the radio through the paper-thin walls of the sheriff station. She got up and stepped over to the wall, put her ear against it to listen. She couldn’t make out everything Wendy was saying, but she did hear the word princess and knew she wasn’t talking about the Johnson boys. Kelly gathered her coat, hat, and purse, and bundled up to head into the night. She walked out and swung the door open as she did. It hit the metal file cabinet behind it with a bang, which she had to admit served her purpose when she saw Wendy jump in her seat and her smile fade.
“Over and out,” Wendy said to Marvin through the radio.
Elderton walked from her office to the break room, her eye on Wendy, who looked legitimately startled. Back in the break room, she poured her still hot coffee into a to-go cup and fastened it with a lid. She dropped the mug into the sink. Walking back toward the door, she noticed that Wendy still looked frightened.
“Wash the dishes before you go home tonight,” she told Wendy sternly.
That did the trick, Elderton thought, noting Wendy’s demeanor change from fright to a look of annoyance—her resting face.
Before either could say or do anything else, Marvin’s phone on his desk began to ring. Wendy got up to go answer it, but before she could reach it and before Elderton could reach the front door, the main line on Wendy’s desk began to ring. Elderton sulked and went to answer it, but before she could reach Wendy’s desk her phone in her office began to ring as well. The two stood there for a moment and looked at each other. All three lines ringing at the same time couldn’t be a coincidence.
“Let the answering machine get Marvin’s line. You go get mine.” Elderton said to Wendy, who then hurried into her office. Elderton answered the main line on Wendy’s desk. “Hello, Tipton Sheriff’s Office. This is Sheriff Kelly Elderton. How may I help you?”
“Leonard killed the kids, I don’t know why,” the frantic voice on the line said, “I came home, and they’re all dead, and he’s been chewing on them, and I don’t know. And he’s trying to kill me. He’s trying to kill me. I’ve locked myself in the bathroom. But he’s trying to get in. He’s trying to kill me. He’s killed all my babies.”
“Slow down and breathe. I know it’s hard, but try.” Elderton started. “Is this Martha Winslow?”
“Yes, yes. He’s trying to get in, you’ve got to help me.”
“OK, and Leonard, your husband, has killed the kids and is trying to kill you, right?” Elderton asked.
“Just get over here!” Martha shouted.
“Look, I have to know what I’m walking into first, OK, I’m doing my best. I’m on my way, just hold tight for me. And find something in that bathroom you can use as a weapon, so if he gets through the door before I get there you can defend yourself, OK?” Elderton said, but there was no reply, just heavy breathing. “Can you do that for me? Can you find a weapon in the bathroom and prepare yourself for if he enters before I get there?”
“Yes, I’m looking.” Martha said. “Just hurry!”
“OK, now stay on the line, because I’m gonna get Wendy on here with you, OK?” Elderton looked up and saw Wendy standing in the doorway to her office on the phone shaking her head. “One moment, I’m getting Wendy now,” Elderton said. She put her hand over the microphone and nearly shouted at Wendy. “What do you mean no?”
“I’m on the line with Betty, something terribly violent has happened with her father, and she needs you over there right away,” Wendy explained.
“But I got Martha Winslow on the line, Leonard killed the kids and is coming after her,” Elderton said. “She’s locked in the bathroom.”
“I don’t know what to tell ya,” Wendy said, “Because Betty’s father is trying to kill her and she’s hiding in the basement, scared out of her wits.”
Elderton paused for a moment. Those cows had exhibited abnormally aggressive and violent behavior, some even turning on each other and biting each other and chewing on each other. They even went so far as to turn to cannibalism, eating each other after they collapsed and died. It had been a bizarre sight, and they had to corral the remaining livestock off from each other individually, so they wouldn’t attack one another. But those cows were not happy about it. They kept fighting the gates and fences, trying to find a way out. Violent, aggressive, erratic. And the water was discolored and had a strange residue in it, she recalled.
She looked down at the coffee still in her hands.
She looked up and asked Wendy, “Did you use the water from the sink to make this coffee?”
“No,” Wendy replied, “You know I always use the bottled water. Why?”
Elderton let out a sigh of relief and dropped the coffee into a trash can. “It may be nothing, but there might be something in the water. Don’t drink it, don’t wash in it. Nothing. Tell people that too, when you talk to them.”
“I’ll explain in a second,” Elderton said. She got back on the phone. “Martha, you still there, hun?”
“Yes, please help me!”
“I’m coming. I swear I’m coming, but I can’t put Wendy on the phone. I need you to be brave, I’m on my way,” Elderton told Martha.
“JUST GET HERE,” Martha said.
“I’m coming.” They hung up. Elderton headed for the door but turned her head back and pointed at Wendy. “Dispatch Marvin to help Betty, screw the Johnson boys!”
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