This is the twentieth part of a fiction serial, in 1160 words.
For the rest of that week, the State Police threw everything at the investigation. My deputies got no time off, and everyone started to get cranky and exhausted. Dozens of cars had been pulled over and searched, followed by a nationwide alert for the personal effects of Doherty turning up. His cellphone history and calls from the motel were looked into, and the Captain called me from Renton. “Sheriff, seems to me that Liam was arranging something for that Sunday. Do you know anything about that?” I told him about the reconstruction plans, and how everyone had agreed to meet him down at that spot on the riverbank. “Captain, I have no idea what he was hoping to achieve with that. Freddie and Duke already told him what they knew, as had I. Tommy is still on the Mental Ward ever since it happened, and Old Man Henderson is long dead. But I had agreed to go along with whatever detective Doherty wanted”.
He wasn’t amused to hear that. “You should have mentioned that, Sheriff. Now I have to consider Tyson and Hayes as possible suspects”. I was unapologetic. “Captain, I presumed your man had kept you up to date with his investigation here. Duke has gone back to Renton, and Freddie Hayes is down in Fairview, so it will be easy for you to talk to them. Let me know if I can be of any help”. When he hung up, it was clear to me that he had no idea what Doherty had been doing down here.
The shooting naturally attracted a lot of attention. I had given interviews to the newspapers, and to the local TV station out of White Oaks. Watching myself on the news was a strange experience. I looked old, but I came across as professional and efficient, so was happy with that. After ten days, and with no suspects or evidence to go on, I let my deputies get back to regular duties, and we began to get something of our routine back.
I drove out to a dealership the other side of White Oaks, and looked at some nice Winnebago motor homes. I had done over thirty years in the job now, and was thinking of taking my pension, and handing over to Bill. He would be a natural for the job, and could be sure of my recommendation. After spending all my life in one state, and not travelling much, I thought it might be nice to just hit the road, and see a lot more of the country. I could just pack my stuff into the RV, and go anywhere I wanted. The salesman said he would take my Cherokee in trade, and worked out some figures on a luxury model. I had plenty of money coming from my inheritance, and I wanted to make the break while I was still young enough to enjoy it. I told the guy I would be back in a few weeks. I think he was upset that I wouldn’t sign that day.
The next morning, one of the detective squad guys from Renton was waiting to see me at the office. He wanted to go over a few things, so he said.
When he had a big mug of coffee in front of him, Detective Kelly relaxed back in the chair and smiled at me. “Sheriff, the Captain asked me to come tell you what we know. Ask if you have any ideas. There was no forced entry at the motel. Seems like Doherty let in whoever shot him. The autopsy revealed he had a small skull fracture above his left ear, hit by a club or something. It would have been enough to knock him senseless, and probably before he was shot”. He opened a small notebook. “Those guys Hayes and Tyson both have pretty solid alibis provided by one guy’s mom, and the other’s wife and kids. As for Clinton, well he was under lock and key up in County Hospital. There has been no trace of Doherty’s phone, car keys, or wallet. As for the files and notebooks, same thing. We don’t have any fingerprints, shoe prints, and not one single decent suspect. You got any theory?”
“Well, Liam spoke to a lot of people around here, detective Kelly. and he wouldn’t tell me who, where, or when. Did it all in secret. Seems to me he might have upset a lot of people, raking up that old case. But as for a theory, I can only think of a burglar. If someone went out there intending to kill him, then why would they risk him jumping them, and not have their own weapon? Maybe it was just opportunist. He was a city guy, with a new car. Maybe they presumed he might have money, or something worth stealing in his car? If that’s the case, then it won’t be anyone around here. We don’t have burglars like those here in Riverdale. I would know. As for letting him into the room, I don’t see that. More likely he heard someone messing with his car, opened the door, and got jumped. The guy hit him with something so he is dazed, then searched the room for valuables. Liam comes round, grabs his service pistol, there’s a struggle, and he gets himself shot by accident. I doubt anyone went there intending to kill him”.
Kelly hadn’t bothered to take any notes. “Sheriff, between you and me, Doherty was a strange guy. Not popular on the squad, and couldn’t keep a partner. He was creepy, secretive, and not a team player. I always thought something like this would happen one day. He worked in secret, and rarely told anyone what he was up to, even the Captain. As far as I’m concerned he’s no great loss. But that said, he was one of us, like it or not, and I can’t see the Captain letting it go unsolved”. He stood up and reached into his jacket, handing me a card. “If you think of anything, give me a call. I’ve got stuck with putting it all together, and have to do a case report for the Captain”.
Six weeks later, I phoned the number on the card, and asked Kelly how he was getting on. “Thanks for your call, Sheriff. We still have nothing. Reckon the whole thing will soon be filed as unsolved, and I can get on with my normal job”.
My next call was to County, giving notice that I was taking retirement in three months. I recommended Bill as a replacement, and said I would urge him to apply for the job. Then I called the RV dealership and ordered the Winnebago.
I discussed the available options, and settled on a top of the range model.
Before leaving for the day, I contacted the supervisor at County Hospital, making arrangements to visit Tommy the next afternoon.