I’ll admit it. I’d run for the job because I thought it would be easy. I figured being the Sheriff of Ellis County, Texas would mean a lot more time on the putting greens and at the house. God knows I needed it. Just ask my wife. Plus, I liked the brass lettering on my door. “Office of the Sheriff. Luke Ballard.” It gleamed when the sun hit it.
All those long nights and grimy days of being a Dallas Police Department homicide detective took their toll. There are only so many bodies you can see before you start to smell that familiar odor of decomposition everywhere you go. In your clothes, your hair, your car. You’re never even sure if it’s really there or just your memory playing tricks. After a while, everyone and no one seems guilty. There’s only so much you can take before you need a change of scenery.
For the most part, I’d been right. Life was easier. I sat at my desk and looked important. I glad-handed local politicians when they stopped by the office. I doled out assignments to my deputies and patrol officers and let them do the hard work. I went home at 5.
I’m not saying this place is a utopia. Far from it. There are robberies, sexual predators, domestic squabbles, drug offenses, and even the occasional murder or arson. The sludge and filth of Dallas was slowly migrating this way. But there was less of it. And I didn’t have to answer to anyone except every four years at the ballot box.
This week I’d gotten more calls about missing pets than anything else. The Andersons thought that finding their border collie should be my top priority. It wasn’t. I’d had two dogs and a cat go missing the last month. I received more calls about those animals than the body found at Kimmel Park last week. Obvious OD. And that victim, unlike our pet friends, didn’t have anyone looking for him.
I had a tee time at 3:30 that day. When dispatch let us know there was a Code 415—a domestic disturbance—and I heard the address, I radioed back that I would handle it. It was Sam and Denise Overton. This was a monthly occurrence. Maybe every other month when they were going through a period of domestic bliss. It didn’t take much to calm them down. A raised voice and a couple of threats did it. No charges filed. Then they’d go back to doing whatever it is the Overtons did until the next time we were called out. Most importantly, the call was on my way to the first tee at Arbor Hills.
The Overtons lived in a house that Sam Overton claimed was built by his great-great grandfather. Based on appearances, no one had maintained it since it was built. Peeling white paint, holes in the porch, rusting gutters, and a sagging roof was what greeted me. And that was just the exterior.
When I pulled up, all the lights were shining but I didn’t hear a sound. That was unusual for the Overtons. Usually I could hear them from a quarter mile away.
I knocked. No answer. Knocked again. Same result. I jiggled the door handle and realized the door was unlocked.
I walked in, announcing my presence. “Sheriff Ballard!” I yelled. No answer. I walked across the dingy tile floors of the kitchen and into the living room, the laundry room, and finally the two bedrooms with their matching fading floral wallpaper from the 1970s. Dishes were piled up in the sink. Clothes covered the laundry room so I couldn’t see the top of the washer or dryer. The bed was unmade, and there was a full ashtray on the nightstand. Marlboros. Unfiltered.
There was no one here. I kept my hand on my holstered P226—department-issued—but never grabbed it. I even opened a couple of closets, one of them vomiting its contents of clothes, old sporting equipment, shoes, cheap framed art, and even a .22. It was not loaded. I checked. I did not clean up the mess I created.
When I got back in my car, I radioed Sheila, our day dispatcher. She’d been with the department twenty years. She was there before me, and she’d be there after me. I told her to let me know if anyone saw the Overtons. She told me she’d check with Sam Overton’s employer. He worked at a local manufacturing plant that made insulated foam cups. The kind you found next to most office Keurig machines and in every law enforcement office I’d ever seen.
I figured the Overtons would show up. In the interim I had a tee time to make and a nasty slice to address.
I shot a 91. I’m not proud of it. But you had to know where I started to realize that was actually decent. I landed in sand on only five holes. Trust me. That’s an improvement.