The derailment was proving to be a monumental headache for the Black River cops. It was bad enough that the eastbound train had jumped the tracks on its advance through the marshy flatlands of Lorain County to the rail yards in Cleveland. It also inconveniently happened where the tracks crossed heavily trafficked McKinney Road. Several boxcars toppled onto the railroad right-of-way and spilled their cargo, which included new washing machines and dryers.
All on duty officers were at the chaotic scene, rerouting traffic and keeping onlookers and scavengers away. The railroad was sending in a couple of cranes to hoist the engine back onto the tracks and right the boxcars, but it was going to take two, maybe three days to clean up the intersection. Chief Andy Drucker ordered all available off duty personnel to report in too, and that included Officer Linda Priebe.
An athletic five feet seven, with dark blonde hair she customarily wore in a French braid, gray-green eyes and a determined set to her jaw, Linda was a six-month rookie anxious to prove her bona fides. She peeled in to the PD parking lot, beelined for the women’s locker room and within moments was in uniform and headed out the door to her patrol car and the derailment.
Milly Jensen, one of the dispatchers, was waving her over.
“Okay … okay … please ma’am, try to calm down. I’ve got an officer right here. I’ll put her on,” Milly was saying to the caller.
Linda took Milly’s headset, put it on and winced.
“MURDER!” shrieked a female voice. “Rodney Rhodes is dead! Killed! Somebody chopped off his head! Please help, hurry!”
The caller’s name and address were on the computer screen: Darla Murski of 9889 Walnut Ridge Road.
“Ma’am, I’m on my way,” said Linda. “Stay inside. Lock up. I’ll be there soon as I can.”
Her siren wailing, Linda sped to Walnut Ridge Road.
Moments later, she was standing in Darla Murski’s barnyard and thinking maybe she should’ve gotten a few more details about Rodney Rhodes.
“This is Rodney Rhodes?”
The victim had been beheaded, all right. He lay on the ground, his body at Linda’s feet, his head about a yard away.
“It’s a chicken,” Linda said.
“He’s not just a chicken! He’s my favorite, my special pet, my Rodney, my hero, the best Rhode Island Red in the whole goddamn county, goddamn it, and somebody’s gone and chopped off his heeaaaad!”
Skinny, leathery and middle-aged, with hair cut like a boy’s, Darla Murski didn’t look like the kind of woman to dissolve in tears. But dissolve in tears she did over the unhappy fate of Rodney Rhodes.
As Linda stood with a weeping Darla, her backup arrived. Three cars, their overheads blipping, came roaring up the long gravel driveway and skidded to a halt in the barnyard, raising clouds of dust.
Officers Bill MacIvoy and Louie Tarrantino and lo! Chief Andy himself jumped out of their rides. At the sight of Andy, Darla’s grief seemed to intensify. He bustled up, his beer belly swaying, his jowly face impassive behind his aviator specs. Tarrantino and MacIvoy followed, looking around.
“You got a murder here, Priebe?” said MacIvoy, a tall lean guy with a buzz cut and a face full of skepticism.
“Er … it’s, uh …” Linda swallowed. “It’s a chicken.”
“Aw, c’mon,” he said.
Linda jerked her head in the direction of the decapitated fowl.
Tarrantino and MacIvoy smirked. Drucker scowled.
“Darla, Mrs. Murski,” said Andy to the sniffling Darla. “Officer Priebe was first on the scene and we’ve got a derailment on McKinney Road, so if you don’t mind we’ll leave her to take your report. Sorry about Rodney.”
“You’re in good hands with Officer Priebe,” declared Tarrantino solemnly.
“Absolutely,” agreed MacIvoy. “She takes all our beheaded chicken calls. Nobody could handle this situation better than Officer Priebe.”
Andy bustled back to his car, casting a backward glance at Darla. Tarrantino and MacIvoy sauntered back to theirs.
“Wise guys,” Linda muttered. She watched them go and noticed, not for the first time, what a cute butt Louie Tarrantino had.
Darla glared bleary-eyed at their retreating backs. “He was a rooster,” she said sullenly.