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Dunning clashes with county sheriff

Read what happens with newspaper reporter Glennis Dunning confronts Sheriff Manly Watson at the county jail:

“Well, if it ain’t North May County’s ace news reporter in the flesh!” Watson bellowed,

emerging from behind his desk to greet Glennis. A tall man in his late fifties, he had fading red

hair streaked with gray, roving amber-colored eyes, and a face splotched with broken veins.

Watson directed Glennis to a wooden chair in front of his desk.

Two things about Watson chapped her butt—his impish grin, and his habit of twirling a

toothpick in the corner of his mouth. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the toothpick habit was

sporadic, but like his grin, it was omnipresent. The toothpick twirling was as predictable as his

shit-eating grin.

Glennis stuffed her irritation, nodded, and with a tight smile, pretended Watson really

believed she was an “ace” reporter, even though they both knew the “compliment” was in reality

a backhanded slight. She sat down and plucked her reporter’s pen and pad out of her purse.

“What can I do for you, lady?”

She took a deep breath. Watson knew damn well why she was there. At least he didn’t

address her as “little lady,” as Adelle had done yesterday. “I’m here to interview Ben Finley.”

The irritating grin slid off Watson’s face. “You’re wasting your time. This here is an openand-

shut case if I’ve ever seen one.”

“That could be, Sheriff, but I think

Beacon readers deserve hearing Ben’s side of the story.”

“Ben don’t have a side,

Miz Dunning. He’s done confessed to killing his brother-in-law.”

She had given up asking Watson to call her Glennis. “With all due respect, sheriff, that’s not

what I heard. Could I have a copy of the confession?”

“Not on your life. That would piss Cunningham off royally. He don’t want to risk a mistrial

this early in the game.”

Bryce Cunningham, the May County DA, just happened to be running for reelection that


“You might want to check with Cunningham again,” Glennis continued, trying not to sound

challenging. “If I recall, in the Enrique Sandoval case a couple of years ago, the DA’s office

released the defendant’s confession

before the trial began.”

“And as you know full well, lady, that little misstep about kicked the DA’s butt. This time,

Cunningham gave my office strict orders to make sure that don’t happen again.”

Glennis jotted down some notes, which made Watson squirm in his chair. Realizing it was

fruitless to pursue this particular issue any further, she posed a different question. “Will you send

the body to Corpus Christi for an autopsy?”

Watson guffawed. “You

are joking, Miz Dunning, right?”

“I’m serious as can be, Sheriff.”

“Perhaps you didn’t hear me the first time. I said Ben Finley confessed to the murder.”

“Indeed, you did, Sheriff, but I haven’t read the confession. Therefore, I am at a loss as to

how to react to it.”

Suddenly, he didn’t look so happy. “Are you calling me a liar?”

“I’m afraid I can’t make a judgment one way or another without reading what Ben is alleged

to have said.”

Watson had made the mistake two years earlier of telling everyone he kicked his two-packa-

day smoking habit by gnawing on a toothpick. After that, most everyone in the county except

Watson himself had learned to read Watson’s mood by monitoring the toothpick. The speed of

toothpick bobbing increased in direct proportion to Watson’s agitation. Right now, for instance,

it was bobbing like a praying mantis on speed. Although she gained quiet satisfaction from the

sheriff’s discomfort, she remained poker-faced. No use letting Watson read

her, after all.

Watson sighed. “So you want to hear what ole Ben has to say for himself firsthand?”

“That’s why I’m here, Sheriff.”

“I afraid I can’t help you with that.”

“Why not?” Glennis asked, leaning forward, trying like hell to keep her temper in check.

“Earlier this morning, Mr. Finley reported not feeling well.” Watson shot her a crooked grin.

“The county wouldn’t want a dedicated journalist like you to risk contracting some strange

ailment from a prisoner.”

Glennis tried to suppress her eagerness because she knew the sheriff would get a charge out

of denying her request, and that was the last thing she wanted. But the truth was, she needed to

talk with Ben as soon as possible. “I’m willing to take that chance, Sheriff.”

“Can’t risk it,” he repeated, thrusting out his lower lip and crossing his arms across his chest.

“Has a doctor examined Ben?”

“He had some kind of damn bug. Puke was splattered from one end of the cell to another.”

He grimaced. “And if that weren’t bad enough, he had the runs, too.”

Suddenly, Glennis felt nauseous, picturing what the cell must have looked like. “Could it

have been food poisoning?”

“We run a tight operation here,” he said, his voice hardening. “We don’t give our prisoners

tainted food.”

Suddenly, Glennis recalled an image from the previous year when she visited Enrique

Sandoval in jail. She’d noticed several times his food tray sat unrefrigerated on a small table

outside the cell for extended periods of time. She’d mentioned it to Sharon McCracken, who

raised her eyebrow and gave her

the look.

“When food temperatures fall outside the safe range,” Glennis put in, taking a deep breath,

“it doesn’t take long to develop botulism, Sheriff.”

“I hear the county health department has some openings, if that’s your interest,” he shot

back in a sour tone, chomping down on the toothpick in the corner of his mouth.

“Not my interest, just an observation. It might make an interesting Sunday feature, though.”

She paused a few beats, drumming her forefinger against her lips. “Unless I get in to interview

Ben, that is.”

“Are you threatening me, Miz Dunning?”

She tossed her head back and laughed throatily. “Why, of course not, Sheriff. A lady like

me? But, to tell the truth, I

am rather desperate to fill up my quota of newsprint. I was counting

on my interview with Ben. But since Ben is not available… Well, I have to do

something, now,

don’t I?”

“All right!” he snapped, wadding up a piece of paper and tossing it forcefully into the waste

basket next to his desk. “You got me over a barrel. I’ll ask Ben if he wants to talk with you.”


“Yes, now. Unless you’d rather come back later.”

“Now is fine. But

I’d rather ask Ben myself if he feels like talking.”

“Whatever.” He snatched a key ring off a hook behind his desk and motioned for Glennis to

follow him.

When they got to the cell, Ben was huddled in the fetal position on top of his bunk.

“Finley,” Watson barked. “You got a visitor.”

Ben finally looked toward them with a furrowed brow. He looked like he was trembling.

“Don’t just sit there like a damn lump on a log. You know this lady here? She wants to help

you.” Watson smirked as he opened the cell door and motioned for Glennis to enter. “All yours.”

Glennis sighed. Watson’s tone was meant to undermine Ben’s confidence in her, if he had

any. But she had already anticipated Watson would do just that. If Watson would leave them

alone, she hoped to gain Ben’s trust.

“Let me know if you need me,” Watson snarled as he turned to walk away. “I’ve got

paperwork to do.”

“Thanks, Sheriff,” Glennis murmured, not really meaning it.

When she was sure Watson was out of sight, Glennis walked over to Ben’s bunk, bent down,

and reached out to him. She grasped his wrists gently, and in a soft voice said, “You remember

me, don’t you, Ben? I’m Glennis Dunning with the

May County Beacon.”

“Of course, Miz Glennis. I remember you.”

“I’m so sorry this has happened to you, Ben,” she said, gently squeezing his wrists.

He looked up at her with puppy-dog eyes. “Miz Glennis, why are they keeping me here?

Elias killed my Pogo.” He eyes welled up, and a tear suddenly slid down his cheek. “He was my

best friend in the whole world.”

“I know that,” Glennis said softly, patting him on the wrist. “A lot of people know that,


“Then why are they making me stay here? I don’t like the way they treat me, Miz Glennis.”

“How do they treat you?”

He blinked away another tear. “Like I did something wrong.”

“Well, it’s like this,” Glennis began, letting out a sigh. “Haven’t you ever heard that

expression ‘being at the wrong place at the wrong time’?”


“That’s what happened to you, Ben. You were at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“But that’s where I live.” He shuddered.

“I know that, Ben. But it’s also where Elias was…killed.” Glennis wanted to soften the word,

but with murder… Well, there was no way.

“Look at me,” Glennis said. She grasped Ben’s chin and aligned his gaze with hers. “I’ll do

everything I can to find the real killer, but you have to help me. Can you do that, Ben?”

“I’ll try, Miz Glennis.”

“That’s not good enough,” she said with a grimace. “I want you to promise me you’ll tell me

everything you can remember about that day. Everything.”

He blinked. “Sometimes I don’t remember so good.”

“I’ll help you, Ben. It just takes practice.” She paused, smiled, and grasped his palms. “Let’s

pretend it’s a game. I’ll ask you a bunch of questions, and you’ll see how many you can answer.

Think of it as a game.”

“That might make it fun,” he admitted, smiling for the first time since she’d arrived. “You

ask, and I’ll answer.”

“Only I need for your answers to be true, Ben.”

“Oh, I promise. I’m not good at making up stuff, anyhow.”

“That’s perfect. We’ll work well together, Ben. I know it!”

He beamed.

“Say, Ben,” she said, reaching down to retrieve something from her purse. “I’ve got a

portable tape recorder. Do you mind if I record our interviews? It’ll help us both remember, and I

think you’ll enjoy it.” She turned the switch to record.

“Like in a spy movie,” he said, clapping his hands together. “Can I hear it afterward?”

“Well, sure… I can let you hear parts of it, but we may not have time for you to sit and listen.”


About cchessher

Librarian, writer, editor, teacher


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