Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Deer John Doe a Serial Mystery by Sam Cheever

Years ago I started a cozy mystery entitled Deer John Doe. I didn't complete the book because I moved on to other genres and never came back to it. I thought it might be fun to share the book as a serial novel and complete it as I go.

Deer John Doe is about a series of unexplained mysteries that occur on the property of a cantankerous and opinionated Octogenarian named Mary Agnes Hawthorne. Mary Agnes loves the dozens of deer that have taken refuge on her property and they trust her enough to take apples out of her hands. But the local hunters know there are a lot of deer on her land and, despite the No Trespassing signs, they just can't seem to resist sneaking in and bagging a few for themselves. When hunters start showing up dead, Mary Agnes seems the obvious suspect. Fortunately for her, Harry Vanderlinde, her nosy, 80 year old neighbor, isn't content to accept the obvious, and he's not gonna stop digging until he clears his lifelong friend's name. If he can stay out of the killer's cross-hairs long enough to do it!

The following is the first installment. I'll add another installment once or twice a week, depending on how much time I have. I hope you enjoy my fun, little story!

Deer John Doe - Chapter One

The buck grazed contentedly on the tall, sweet grass at the edge of the cornfield. In the last rays of the sun, his caramel colored coat appeared to be tipped in gold dust, and his skin trembled occasionally in an effort to fend off the buzzing pests that hovered around him. Being a nervous creature by nature, he would raise his great head every few minutes, swiveling the rack on top of it like radar antenna, and search the area around him for danger. His nose twitched occasionally as the scent of old smoke or some night roaming creature traveled to him on the wind. He had survived long by being careful. It was a hard way to live. He could never relax.

Instinctively he knew the hunter was there even before he smelled him. That same instinct told the animal that he should flee. He lifted his head and engaged his legs as he heard the gun being raised to sight. Like a flash from a match in the night, he threw his large, golden body into the air, bounding toward the protective cover of the cornfield. The sound of the buckshot leaving the gun caused adrenaline to surge through his veins. At the edge of the cornfield, he propelled his golden body into the air, where he hung for a moment, suspended in time, a beautiful symbol of gentle freedom. He snorted in terror as the racing shot pierced through soft, yielding flesh, bringing with it the smell of fresh, salty blood, and dropped its target like a rock in the dewy grass.


The hunter’s body lay sprawled under the right rear tire of a John Deere Model 70 Diesel tractor. His pale, bloodless face appeared to absorb and mirror the bright, yellow green of the tractor’s shiny bumper. He was wearing green and brown camouflage overalls, covered by a neon-orange vest. His hat had fallen forward over his dead, glass-like eyes, and the point of his deer rifle was placed firmly into the junction of his skinny legs.

The figure standing over the dead man smiled at this touch, and reached out to tweak the dead guy’s pale, cold cheek. “Hunting accidents are a bitch ain’t they, old guy?” Chuckling gently, the figure flicked a match across a battered pack of matches and cursed as the match refused to ignite. Two tries later the match flared, illuminating narrowed, watery eyes and a red, runny nose under a large-billed cap. The match dropped into the gasoline-splashed lap of the body and exploded into vibrant life.

“It’s really a shame to ruin the tractor, old boy, but hell, it’s worth it to get rid of one a’ you assholes.” As the flames began devouring the gasoline soaked sections of the old barn, the arsonist saluted the fire-painted remains of the victim and turned away with a phlegmy chuckle. “See ya in hell, old man.”


Harry Vanderlinde tried to ignore the insistent pulse of his full bladder. Since he’d turned 80 the previous fall, it seemed he spent the largest part of his life in the damn bathroom. His eyelids fluttered open on a fresh burst of urgency from his urinary tract but he snapped them firmly shut again. He thought if he could just get to sleep again, he’d be all right. But, after a sleepless, uncomfortable couple of minutes, he pulled back the covers with a sigh and got up. Shuffling sleepily to the bathroom down the hall, he flipped on the light.

After he’d positioned himself over the toilet, he glanced out the small window on the adjoining wall. With a jerk of surprise that would require a disinfectant-coated sponge to remedy later, he realized that something was terribly wrong. His sleep-filled eyes widened with shock as his groggy mind took in the flame-covered silhouette of what was once Mary Agnes Hawthorne’s ancient barn.


Mary Agnes Hawthorne was dead asleep in her bed when the fire trucks arrived on the scene. Vaguely she could hear the sirens in the distance, but she simply wove them into her dreams and slept on. She finally woke when the pounding on her door started. As she shuffled to the front door of her 200-year-old farmhouse, she rubbed sleepily at her eyes. The first thing she saw when she pulled open the front door, was the cloud of gray smoke that painted the sky just above her barn. The next thing she noticed was that flames were shooting from the hay window in the loft. Mary Agnes fainted dead away, landing on the thin, flowered carpet. Atop her visitor’s size thirteen feet.

Later, as Mary Agnes swam up from a cloudy unconsciousness, she swiped angrily at the cold, rough hand that was gently smacking her cheek. Her faded blue eyes came open and she glared into the gently concerned face of her daughter-in-law, Hannah Hawthorne. “How you doin’, mom? You okay?” Hannah’s pale features were finely etched from the passage of time and a heavy dose of hard work. At only 45, Hannah looked much older. Working a dairy farm was hard work, and there was no way to take a break from it. The winter months were the lightest, and they were hard enough.

Mary Agnes grabbed one of Hannah’s dry, cracked hands in a steely grip. “What the hell are ya hittin’ me for, girl?”

Hannah exchanged a look with the fireman whose feet Mary Agnes had flattened, and reached for one of Mary Agnes’ scrawny arms. “Let’s just see if we can get you off this floor and onto that nice, comfy couch, okay mom?”

Mary Agnes’ contrariness turned quickly to confusion. “Girl, what in God’s name am I doin’ on this floor?”

Hannah moved around behind the older woman to lift her up. She placed Mary Agnes’ arm around her neck and walked her to the couch. Hannah lowered her mother-in-law into the ancient, brocade sofa, and plopped down next to her. “You fainted, mom.”

Suddenly remembering, Mary Agnes sat bolt upright, her crinkled blue eyes widening in horror. “Bobo!”

Hannah touched her arm, gently pushing her back into the couch. “He’s fine, mom. For once his Houdini talents saved his life. He must have pulled the latch on his stall again. George found him in the garden, happily pulling all your carrots out of the ground.”

Mary Agnes gave a huge sigh. “That little bugger will be the death of me some day.” But she smiled as she said it. She loved that little pony almost as much as she loved her kids. All fourteen of them.

The front door slammed open and a large man, wearing a heavy flannel shirt rolled to his elbows, and well-worn jeans covered in soot, walked through it.

“Take off your shoes, young man!” Mary Agnes shouted at him.

“Yes ma’am.” George Hawthorne responded in his deep, gentle voice. He pulled the heavy work boots off and plodded over to the two women in socks that were as dirty as his boots. “How’s she doin’, hon?”

Before Hannah could open her mouth to respond, Mary Agnes reached out and slapped him on his thick, well-muscled forearm. “I’ve told you a thousand times, George Buford Hawthorne, don’t talk about me like I’m not here. I’m only old, I’m not retarded.”

“Sorry.” George caught his wife’s eye and nodded his head toward the back of the house. He turned and started toward the kitchen. “I’ll get you a drink of water, ma.” He said over his shoulder.

“The hell with that, Georgie, bring me a shot.”

Hannah chuckled and stood up. I’ll be right back, mom.

George had a glass of water in his hand when Hannah joined him. “She wants a shot, hon.”
George chuckled and handed Hannah the glass. “I think I’m gonna need one too. Jeff said he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to save the John Deere.”

“Oh no, I’m sorry, hon.”

George sighed. “That tractor’s been in this family for 30 years. I was hopin’ to give it to G.J. when he got his own place. George Junior, or G.J., as his family called him, was going to graduate college in the fall, and his parents suspected he would marry his girlfriend, Ida soon after that. The boy would be the first Hawthorne to graduate from college and his parents were very proud of him.

George poured a shot of scotch into another water glass and downed it. He gave Hannah a sad smile as he poured a second shot for his mother. “Maybe this’ll calm her down.”

Hannah gave him a gentle, reassuring smile. They returned to the front room, or the parlor, as his mother liked to call it, just in time to see Jeff Kincaid walk into the house, followed by a sheriff’s deputy.

“Take off your dang shoes, boys.” Mary Agnes called out from her spot on the couch.

“Yes, ma’am,” Jeff shrugged out of his soggy, black fireman’s coat and hung it on the hook by the door. Then he bent over and pulled off his heavy, rubber boots. He turned to look at the deputy, who was young and full of himself and didn’t appear to take Mary Agnes seriously. “I’d do as she says, Mike,” Jeff warned him under his breath, “she raised fourteen kids pretty much by herself and she’ll eat your face for breakfast if you don’t.”

Mike Cleary frowned and crossed his arms stubbornly. “I ain’t here on a social visit, Jeff. I don’t have time to worry about some cranky little old lady.” Unfortunately for him he hadn’t bothered to lower his voice.

Mary Agnes sat bolt upright on the couch and sucked in her cheeks. George and Hannah halted dead in the doorway and stopped breathing in anticipation of the coming fireworks. Their eyes flew from one combatant to the other. It was clear they were looking forward to a battle where they were not involved. They’d both been at the pointed end of Mary Agnes’ big stick more than they cared to think about.

It was especially pleasant that Mike Cleary would be the day’s victim. He’d always been a consummate pain in the hinder regions.

Mary Agnes jabbed her small, steel gray eyes at Mike and clenched her gnarled fists in her lap. Jeff’s eyes flew from Mike to the tiny woman on the couch, his lips tightening slightly to ward off an impending smile. He glanced across the room at George and Hannah and took note of the sparkle in their eyes and their suspiciously tight lips.

“Didn’t I know your mother, young man.” Mary Agnes said very quietly.

The observers watched Mike Cleary deflate like a balloon in a hothouse. “I’m here to talk business, Mrs. Hawthorne, I don’t have time….”

“Your mother was always disappointed in you, boy! You do know that don’t you?”

Mike’s face turned bright red and his upper lip suddenly broke out in tiny beads of sweat. “Now, Mrs. Hawthorne….”

“She told me she loved Mary Ellen better than you.”

“My sister is a drunk!”

“Your sister has more hair on her chest than you have on your whole body, boy!” Mary Agnes stood up and shuffled across the room. “Where were you when your mama was dyin’ in her bed, you worthless little piece of frog spit?” Her soft gray head only reached the middle of his aforementioned hairless chest, but the old woman didn’t seem to be impressed by the difference in their sizes. She pushed her veiny face toward the six-foot tall man.

Though he scowled aggressively, Mike Cleary found himself backing away from her as she jabbed a gnarled finger into his chest. He reached up to push his pretty boy hair off his forehead, casting a helpless eye at Jeff. Jeff only shrugged an “I told you so” shrug and looked at his feet.

“You couldn’t face her because she was sick, could you, boy? Your sister tended that poor, Godly woman every minute of every day until she took her last breath. But you didn’t have the guts even to visit your momma and help ease the loneliness of those last days did you?”

A single tear broke loose from Mike Cleary’s eye and traveled down his bright red cheek.
George decided this was too much even for a jerk like Mike Cleary, “Ma, let him be….”

“Shut up Georgie, this is none of your concern!” Agnes didn’t even turn away from her victim as she yelled at her son. Her watery gray eyes were clasped on the puffy, red face of Mike Cleary like a viper’s unwavering gaze on a fat mouse.

Mike swiped at his cheek and turned a pleading eye toward George and Hannah. Hannah took a step toward the dueling pair, determined to do something to get her mother-in-law under control. George moved out after her, and stopped her with a hand on her arm. “It’s OK, honey, I’ll deal with her.” He said softly.

But Jeff did the job himself. Moving toward Mary Agnes, he placed a gentle hand on her bony shoulder and turned her reluctantly away from her quivering victim. “Mrs. Hawthorne, ma’am. There’s something you need to know.”

Mary Agnes’ fierce gaze shot toward the fireman as she tried to shrug away from his hand. “Let me be, young man, or I’ll set you in your place too!”

Jeff pulled his hand from her shoulder as if it were a coal from the Devil’s own barbecue, and tried a consolatory smile on her. Mike and I came in here to tell you we finally got the fire out.”

“That sure is good news isn’t it, ma?” George stepped between Cleary and Mary Agnes. He put his arm around her frail, bony shoulders. She was starting to shake now that her anger had passed. He moved her gently but deliberately toward the couch and sat her down again. He and Hannah sat down on either side of her.

Jeff looked at Mike and saw that the young man was still too upset to speak, so, against his greatest inclinations, he took a deep breath and plowed ahead. “I’m afraid we have some very bad news for you folks.”

George nodded his head sadly. “I know about the John Deere, Jeff.”

“It’s not the Deere, George. I’m afraid….” Jeff glanced hopefully in Mike’s direction, but Mike was gone. He’d left the door standing wide open behind him. Jeff took a deep breath and turned back to the trio of Hawthornes on the couch. “I wish it was as simple as a burnt tractor, George. I’m afraid we found a charred body in the barn.”


Stay Tuned for more!

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