Deadline for Death

Deadline for Death

by Steven R. Head


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After the death of his father, graduate student Wilson Dodge returns to his hometown in Wyoming to run the family newspaper. It’s the mid-1950s: a time of simplicity and peace in Dodge’s small town— until the newspaper’s youngest employee, photographer Corky Freeman, is found dead. For Dodge, nothing is simple anymore.

Grayson Farmer is the Fremont County Sheriff , now facing reelection as a Democrat in the year of Eisenhower and the Republicans. He can’t seem to find a suspect or motive in the death of Freeman, and the town’s fresh-faced news editor does little but get in his way. Farmer’s problems only increase due to personnel problems, another death, and the FBI.

Dodge sets out to solve Freeman’s murder and finds clues, romance, and family secrets. A journey that leads the newspaperman to lessons and dangers he had not expected. And as the body count rises and fills the front page, Dodge declares a deadline on reporting deaths.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781491741108
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 08/15/2014
Pages: 316
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.66(d)

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Deadline for Death

By Steven R. Head

iUniverse LLC

Copyright © 2014 Steven R. Head
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4917-4110-8


Tribal Police officer Tom Masin may not have seen the car in the noman's land between Highway 26 and the cabin fifty yards from the road without the almost full moon. The howl of tires on pavement subsided as he switched from gas to brake pedal. As the newest officer of the Wind River Indian Reservation Tribal Police Force, he had been volunteered to represent the agency at a meeting in Casper, Wyoming. The decision to set out before 4:00 am was driven by his fear of being late rather than specific orders from his captain.

Masin pulled the Army surplus Willys Jeep onto the shoulder fifteen feet from the mailbox at the end of the lane, slid off the seat with a flashlight, stood quietly and studied the terrain. He searched for movement and saw only the moonlit shapes and shadows of rabbit brush and sage, the car, and the small building. In six hours this scene would be sun-bleached, the same shapes monochrome with tiny shadows in pale hues. Masin liked the delicate tones of night views even though this one smelled of danger.

He pushed the switch of the flashlight to on as he approached the entry point of the lane. The tire tracks on top showed the car came from the east, probably Riverton. Fresh prints on top of the tire treads of a single individual pushing a bicycle from the car left a broken trail in the dirt of a tire path. He compared the length of a boot print to his own.

Masin set out toward the car a good yard beyond the lane, alert for movement ahead, and stopped every few yards to scan for more tracks but only found the single set. Near the rear of the car, through the broad rear windows, he could see the head of a figure in the driver's seat. Masin stopped and flashed light into the gap of the partially open trunk lid, likely location of the bicycle walked back to the road, and saw nothing of interest.

He inched around to the passenger side and noticed the rear windows wrap around in four distinct segments. Masin flashed the light into the back seat and saw bulky bags behind the driver side seat. He switched off the flashlight and let the moon illuminate the scene. Stepping forward to just behind the passenger door, he found neither boot prints on the loose sandy soil nor a companion in the passenger seat. He retreated behind the car and watched for movement in the car and from the cabin.

Masin moved to the driver side and focused the flashlight beam on the rolled up driver's window, taking care to leave the foot prints heading back to the highway undisturbed. The driver's chin rested on his chest, perhaps asleep. Standing behind the door, he tapped the flashlight against the window with his left hand, ready to retreat and draw his handgun if needed. No response. He tapped again. Still nothing.

Before taking a closer look at the driver he flashed around the ground, looking for footprints going toward the cabin but found none. Masin stepped closer and examined the face—the driver looked white, not Indian. The man appeared injured or dead, and he could do little in either circumstance. He knew it was best not to disturb the body if it was an injury.

Stepping to his left, away from the car, Masin checked for tire tracks leading to the cabin. The dirt on the driver's side path ahead of the car was undisturbed, dust and wind having filled in any tire tracks from an earlier visit. There was no reason to believe the cabin was occupied.

Masin hurried back to the road, taking care not to obscure the foot prints, slipped into the Jeep and drove east to the Riverton airport. The pay telephone booth outside the Sky Club was the quickest way to contact the local law officers. The Tribal Police budget could not afford two-way radio equipment, not to mention repair of the busted low gear in the Jeep. He dialed zero, identified himself, and asked the operator to send a Fremont County Sheriff's officer to the location of the car.

Driving back to the scene he questioned whether the man and car were on reservation land. Since the driver was not an Indian, turning it over to the County authorities made sense. The action could open him to ridicule from Tribal Council members, but Captain Latrell was likely to support his decision. The history of interagency squabbles between the Wind River Tribal Police and Fremont County Sheriff over issues of jurisdiction was piled high with conflict. This did not appear to be a situation worthy of a fresh skirmish.

As he waited for a sheriff to arrive Masin inspected the boot prints. Cowboy boots. No distinctive heel or sole markings. Masin walked ten yards in both directions along the side of the paved roadway but failed to find similar prints or bicycle tire tracks on either side. Sitting in the Jeep he made notes in a pad with a silver spiral wire along the top. Time, approximate location, license number, condition of the vehicle, bicycle tire tracks, approximate length of the boot print, along with the action taken.

Masin stood beside the Jeep when the headlights approached. A Fremont County Sheriff's car pulled into the entry point of the dirt road. The driver flashed his mounted spotlight on the vehicle down the lane. The car had appeared a yellow color in his flashlight beam, now it looked off-white. A stout man got out and pulled on a cowboy hat, looking over the roof of his patrol car.

"Deputy Sheriff Bud Yost. What we got here, chief?"

Masin felt the bite of sarcasm but resisted trading insults. He had learned not to play another man's game in the Army, and the value of appearing indifferent. Masin identified himself. "Car off the road. Man inside."

The deputy sat back in his car and drove to the other vehicle, covering the tire and bicycle tracks and foot prints. Masin feared the sheriff might destroy any clues they could offer and decided to assume the role of silent Indian as he followed down the roadway on foot. In his mind this was now a sheriff's department problem.

The deputy looked into the car and opened the door, placing the back of his hand against the driver's face. "This man's dead. Skin's cold."

Masin kept his distance, not wanting to get any closer to the dead man than necessary.

The deputy hitched the gun belt beneath his round belly. "Help me check for identification?"

Masin took a step to the side and away from the car. Even a boarding-school Indian knew to avoid contact with the dead.

The deputy turned and frowned. "Guess you people don't like gettin' too close to the dead, superstition and all."

Masin watched as the deputy pulled a wallet from the back pants pocket of the driver, toppling the dead man's upper body onto the passenger side. He took a step back, wanting even more distance.

"Corky Freeman." The deputy tossed the wallet to Masin. "Verify the amount of cash so we won't be accused of stealin' from the dead or somethin'."

Masin inspected the Wyoming drivers license and memorized the name and address. He counted out sixteen dollars in bills and handed the wallet to the deputy when he approached.

"I'm gonna call this in. Get somebody out for the body and a tow truck for the car. You got any ideas what happened?" Masin shook his head no.

"Looks to me like some freak one-car accident. Maybe some medical condition. Guess it was his night to die or somethin'."

Masin looked expressionless at the deputy, disgusted at how casually the man made up a story about the dead driver. If the rest of the sheriff's department was like this deputy, they were not going to solve many crimes, since this deputy could not even recognize a suspicious death.

Masin was ready to move along to his meeting miles away. "Need me for anything? I've got a meeting in Casper."

"Nah, chief, I've got it from here."

Before starting the Jeep, Masin entered the name and address of the dead man in his notebook, along with "Deputy Bud Yost", followed by "or somthin'" and "one-car accident." He carefully pulled onto the highway and thought about needing a healing ceremony.


Wilson Dodge hummed the melody to "In the Mood" as he walked along Main Street, past the Ben Franklin 5 & 10 and Missy Frank's Dress Shop, on the way to the Atomic Café. He liked the tempo of the big-band tune for walking, and the chill of the still-dark morning after Labor Day made his strides a fraction faster than normal.

The Atomic, formerly the Round-Up Café, faced the Third and Main Street intersection in downtown Riverton. A sign with neon yellow letters and three green neon arcs moving from left to right around a red center angled from the building's corner. Wil preferred the Round-Up's painted cowboy atop a horse twirling a neon lariat, but it was a new age.

No matter the time of day or season, walking into the windowless Atomic reminded Wil of entering a cave. Step-up booths surrounded the rectangular room, and tight alleys snaked around tables for two, four, and eight in the middle ground. The low-wattage string-pull lamps of the booths added little to the green and yellow neon light from recessed coves bouncing off the ceiling into the smoky air. The only bright light came from the kitchen service bay at the rear.

The smell of frying bacon and coffee met him at the door, and a haze of cigarette smoke patted him on the back as he passed the booths and tables en route to the counter. The tan-colored porcelain mug filled with hot coffee was absent at his customary stool, a consequence of his arriving an hour early.

New yellow plastic covered the stool Wil had occupied beside his father, Clayton Dodge, since grade school. In the interim period, Wil had graduated from the University of Michigan, and Clayton had died.

Wil gave a nod to Rose, the waitress, and confirmed his standard order. Just like Wil's stool, Rose played her part in the history and ritual at the Round-Up turned Atomic. Little had changed about her except a darker shade of red had snuck into Rose's hair, and wrinkles had formed at the corners of her eyes. Of the habits Wil had established since returning to Riverton, breakfast evoked the fondest memories. But Riverton had changed, and so had he.

The young man who had come home to assume his father's duties as editor of the Riverton Wrangler looked similar to the naïve boy who had left for college in August of 1945, with his plans of attending seminary. Wil had been the kid who had helped out at the newspaper and at church throughout high school, and he had done little to change that perception.

Rose set silverware and a coffee mug in front of him and filled the latter. "Didn't know you're a fisherman."

He picked up the spoon and glanced at her. "I'm not."

"Doesn't look like you've been up all night with a new girlfriend. So if you're not after worms, why so early, Sam?"

Since his return to Riverton, Rose had started assigning him a different name each day, and it had taken most of a week before he had begun playing along. She had different rituals with the regulars, but the name game appeared to belong solely to him. "Thanks for asking, Olive. Two days of work to do in one. The paper goes out on Thursday, holiday or not. I might keep Sam. Does it suit me?"

"Mmm, maybe in ten years."

Rose spun, grabbed a pair of plates from the service window, and charged into the maze of tables. Wil wondered where he would be in ten years and whether the girlfriend Rose imagined would be making his breakfast, unlike his father's wife. But that would require finding a girl to date, and his dance card had contained only a handful of entries during the past year.

The returning graduate of Riverton High and the University of Michigan had expected few problems picking a spouse. Wil could name a half dozen gals he had dated in high school and just as many others who had interested him. Ramona, his mother, had encouraged him to use Ann Arbor as a hunting ground for a wife. The coeds at Michigan had shared little with the tomboyish western girls he knew and liked.

Rose set a plate of fried eggs, bacon, and fried potatoes in front of him. "Meatloaf's the special, if you make it back. It'll go quick. I can save your spot tomorrow if this is the new time."

"Back to normal tomorrow, Olive."

Wil had hoped to find his hometown the same as he had left it, including a selection of local women for his wife. But most of his classmates were married, and those who were still single did not interest him. Just as he had looked for tomboys at college, now he sought a polished and educated single women, a rare commodity in Fremont County.

One reason for his failure to find a suitable mate was the pressure of learning a new job. After a year in the role of editor, he had developed the full range of skills for the role, except for a weekly editorial. All the ideas that had bubbled for editorials on the drive from Chicago to Wyoming evaporated under the pressure of producing a weekly regional newspaper. Wil kept telling himself that next week he would write an opinion piece. Next week had yet to arrive.

Wil stood, leaving half the potatoes on his plate and a pile of change on the counter. He swallowed the last bit of coffee and headed out of the Atomic for the newspaper office and his list of chores—a front-page article on the Labor Day rally, composed but unwritten; scraps of submitted social news that needed sorting and editing; and photos to go with an unwritten page-3 piece on the first day of school at Jefferson Elementary, an assignment Corky, the photographer, would fit in along with his layout duties.

Streetlights illuminated Main as he escaped the warm and smoky Atomic Café for the crisp chill of September. Wil raised the collar on his wool jacket, and the thud of his cowboy boots accompanied the reflections in store windows as he marched toward the Wrangler office.

* * *

Wil relished the thirty minutes of quiet before the crew of printers arrived to start the daylong cacophony of multiple printing presses. The distinct sound of typebars snapping against paper punctuated the silence as the Labor Day story moved from his thoughts onto the page. Without the background rhythm of a press, the end-of-line ping of the Underwood echoed in the open front office of the newspaper. The staccato of characters on paper filled the page as it inched through the typewriter.

He was near the halfway point on the article on the rally when the sound of the front door opening broke his concentration. His office companion, Geri Murphy, would not arrive until after 8:00 a.m. with the morning mail from the post office. And Corky Freeman, photographer and layout assistant, always ran late. Glancing over his shoulder, Wil saw a khaki uniform shirt and gold star. A silver Stetson tipped back to reveal sheriff's deputy Albert Nelson approaching the front counter.

"Wil, I got some bad news for ya. There's been an accident."

Wil tried to imagine the sort of accident that would bring a deputy to the Wrangler before sunrise.

"There's no good way to say this. Your man Corky, he's dead. The tribal boys found him off the road on 26, out past the airport." The deputy maintained eye contact. "One-car accident. Maybe he fell asleep, or there was an animal."

"One car ..." Wil heard the words but could not connect them. Corky had just turned twenty-two a month earlier. How could he be dead?

"Yup. We got the call around four this morning. Bud went out."

"You said dead, right? Not in the hospital, but ..."

"'Fraid so. We was hoping you could come identify him."

Stand, Wil thought, but his legs ignored the command.

"And do you know anything about his folks? He's not from around here."

Corky had promised to take Wil over the mountains to his family farm in Idaho and a supposed "better view" of the Tetons. They had just talked about it the day before as they covered the Labor Day rally in City Park.

Wil rolled his chair near Geri's desk and the drawer with employee files. He copied the name, address, and telephone number of Corky's parents in Idaho. Wil handed the paper to Albert. "You're sure it's him?"

"That's why we want you to take a look."

Wil hoped it was a mistake. He still wanted to teach and go places with Corky.

"I can drive you to the morgue, at the hospital, if you need me to."

Wil stood, rolled the chair back toward his desk, and moved through the wooden spring-assisted half door of the office area. "I'm good to drive."


Excerpted from Deadline for Death by Steven R. Head. Copyright © 2014 Steven R. Head. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
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