The Curious Case of Nora HigginsMature

Neil grabbed hold of Nora Higgins' tomato trellis, stuck out one leg. He waggled the gurgling garden hose over his pukey boot. Washed away the cottage cheesy bits, and the milky whatever Lou had had for breakfast.

Lou and...Mike. Mike was the kid's name. Lou's driver. Both paramedics had on blue gloves now. They waited with their metal stretcher beside Neil's shot-up cruiser. Ernie looked this way and that, like he was considering composition. He had stopped snapping pics with Neil's phone.

Neil stuck out his other leg, waggled the garden hose over that pukey boot. "Ernie. Head shot. Body. Scenery. Keep it simple. DAMMIT." Water. Cold. In his boot. And Red Ross, chief doc, pulling up in his dorky smartcar.

Neil shut off the faucet, dropped the hose, squelched over Nora's lawn. He snatched the phone from Ernie's hand. Cycled quickly through the pics on the phone. Nora, face up. Nora, again. Lilac bush, and the bloody mess under it, behind her. Nora's throat. "That'll do, constable. Walk the site again. See we haven't missed something."

Ernie sniffed. He started toward the lilac.

"Chief. Thorough, as always." It wasn't a compliment. Red Ross hadn't said one word to Neil without a sneer in it since high school, and Betty.

Red was balding, but was still detestably trim in yet another of his blue suits. He paused, glancing at Neil's shotgunned windshield. "So not you."

"Not yet, Doc. How's your half a car holding up?"

"Great mileage." Red breezed past Neil. "Moved the body, I see. Take your pictures?"

Neil waved the phone.

"Nice phone, Neil. Daughter has one. Pink. Sparkly." Red squatted beside Nora. He leaned in close. "Facial contortion...unexpected...hmm. Massive blood loss. Find what did this? The critter?"

Neil's privates shrivelled. It hadn't looked like a knife wound. He watched Ernie. And the lilac, its branches whirling about in the wind. "Not yet."

"She's dead. Official. Storm coming too. Site's about to wash out. In here, boys." Red stood. "Get her over to Mercy General. I'll do the post mortem soon as I get there. Going to the wife's family for supper tonight. Can't get out of it, dammit." Red went over to Ernie by the lilac.

The blue-gloved paramedics rattled over with the stretcher, mumbling all the way. Lou didn't want Nora's face staring up at him. Lou took her legs. Mike took hold of her shoulders. Mike looked away. They hefted up Nora like a butt-heavy sack of meat. They set her down like they were laying out their boozy aunt on the couch for her afternoon snooze. They blanketed her over.

Red and Ernie squatted like prospectors under the lilac. Ernie poked something with a pencil.

"Chief. Dale Dixon's cussing me out to no end." Dante, by Neil's shoulder.

"Put him in a cell. Give him a coffee. Get a statement when he cools down."

"Right, Chief." Dante jogged away to his cruiser.

The paramedics shuffled by, carrying off Nora to meet Red and his instruments.

"Hell, Dante. Take the cuffs off Dale. He's near one hundred. Lucky he didn't break a hip when you tackled him."

"Right. Chief."

Red beelined toward Neil. Ernie hurried after him. Red held out a plastic bag. Something pink, and glistening, inside it.

"Dentures." Red pushed the bag into Neil's hand. The closest they had come to shaking hands in thirty years. And this one still had teeth in it.

Ernie. "Found 'em under the bush." Red went over to peer down at another mess.

" — CRY TO YOUR MUMMA — " Dale Dixon in the back of Dante's cruiser. The old guy was half turned around, hands behind him. Dante uncuffed him. Slammed the door shut quickly.

The ambulance rumbled off and along King road. Dante pulled out, chirped a bit of rubber as he gunned the cruiser away. Neil smiled. The kid was ticked.

"Whose puke?" Red, squatting by the mess.

"Lou's." Neil's right foot was cold. The sun was gone. The sky black overhead.

Red was up again. He strode past. He stopped. Poked a finger in Neil's shoulder. Stared Neil right in the eye. "You've got Tim Hortons on your tie. I'll be signing your death certificate a lot sooner if you can't say no..."

"CHIEF. AMBULANCE IN THE DITCH — " Dante over Neil's radio.

---

It was like driving a motorbike. Wind like a river poured through Neil's shotgunned windshield. He gunned it around the one bend of King Road. Ahead, leafy alders swayed under the black sky. The ambulance lay on its side. Along a straight stretch of road. Red smoking flares dotted the road ahead. Dante's cruiser, parked behind the rig, flashed red-blue red-blue.

Neil slowed. The ambulance seemed mostly intact. Back doors were gone. The rig might've been a toy, carelessly dropped. Dante stood by the cab, waving both arms at him. Red's bright headlights burned in Neil's rear view mirror. Red beep-beeped. Neil swung around the wreck, parked in front.

Dante. "They're alive, Chief. I went in through the back."

Gusting wind roiled through the alders, spinning the hissing leaves. Neil stooped in front of the dumped ambulance. The two bloody stars cracked in the windshield. Lou and Mike, bloody-faced, lay inside slumped together in a heap. Neil stopped himself swearing. "Forgot seatbelts."

Red in his suit appeared inside through the rear bulkhead. He clambered part way in. Reached down for them. Bloodied his hand checking for pulses.

Ernie had rolled up behind the show. Breathing hard, he rushed in. "Dale Dixon's riled up bad back there, Chief."

Minnie on Dante's radio: "Fire Rescue five minutes away."

Neil. "FIRE RESCUE IN FIVE, RED." Red nodded.

"Dante. Get Dale to the detachment. Agree with everything he says. Cool him down. Go."

"Right, Chief." Dante crunched away over the road.

Ernie started after him. "I'll go look for the body, Chief. She must've been thrown out when they wrecked..."

---

Pickle Flats RCMP detachment.

Minnie Ritter clicked in heels around the lunch room. She had started a fresh pot of coffee. Timmy's house blend. Dante's favourite.

The Chief and Ernie wouldn't be back for another hour, at least. Fire Rescue was on-site. Minnie hoped Lou and Mike were okay. Dante had subdued an armed and uncooperative individual. He was on his way, bringing in the perp for questioning.

Minnie leaned in close to the wall mirror over the first aid eye wash station. Refreshed her lipstick.

Her headset chirped. The front desk phone trilled in the next room.

Minnie pursed her lips. And smirked. She tapped the headset. "RCMP Pickle Flats..."

A tiny dog was yapping itself hoarse over the headset. Then: "Hi, Minnie. It's Sara Ferguson up Sleepy Hollow Lane."

"Hi, Sara. What's got into your little guy there? He upset about the storm, too, I betcha."

"Looks like it'll be a doozie, too. No. My Rico's up on the couch. Throwing himself at the living-room window. Thinks he's a bigger dog than he is. All because of Nora."

The coffee machine spluttered. Burning coffee stunk over the lunch room. Minnie had overfilled the reservoir. "Nora. NORA?"

"Nora Higgins. From up the road. Hate to be a bother, Minnie. She's not...right. Crawling around. Digging up my garden."

The End

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