Strawberry and Rhubarb Pie


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By Kathy VanWey


“Milfred!  Your badge don’t mean nothing around here,” his wife’s southern drawl thundered. “Don’t even think about watching football. That cellar’s needed painting for years.  It’s a gonna get done and it’s a gonna get done today! Do you hear me? Milfred?  Milfred? MILFRED!”

The phone rang.  He maneuvered his massive belly out of the recliner, “I’ll get it.”  

“Sheriff?  Emmylou here,” the dispatcher said. “Sorry for interrupting you over Thanksgiving weekend. Buford called and said that Busie was dead. He thought that sometime you should go up there, but with this blizzard coming, he could store her in the shed or the freezer.  Whichever you thought was best.”

“Tell him we’re on our way. I’ll take the kid with me.  He’s a gonna find out what real police work is like.”

“But the weather. . .”

“This is why the folks in my county vote for me term after term is ‘cause I’m always there for them.”  He hung up the receiver. “Hey, Petey,” he said to the gawky, freckled young man.  “Buford Boone called. Busie’s dead.  Let’s go.”

“There’s one helluva  . . .”

“A law man is on duty twenty-four hours a day, regardless of the weather.

Didn’t that fancy schooling teach you nothing?  This here’s real police work.” 

* * * *

“Come on in,” the mousy, little man said as he took their coats. An original Confederate Flag hung gloriously on the wall.  Portraits of Davis and Lee flanked each side.

Petey opened his notebook. “My sympathies on your wife’s passing. How’d it happen?”

Buford glared at the Sheriff, “Who’s this?”

“Wife’s nephew,” he rolled his eyes. “Has hisself a correspondence degree in law enforcement, but no experience.”

“Ohhh.  Thirsty? Got some shine made in my great grandpappy’s still.”

“But, that’s illegal,” Petey remarked.

“Best hooch in these parts,” his uncle overruled.  The screams of rabid fans blasted from other room. “Buford, mind if I check the score?”

“Help yourself.  Hungry? Got turkey and all the fixin’s.” 

The kid protested, “If we don’t leave soon, we could be stranded here for a week.”

“Petey! Shut the hell up!”

“That was the best pumpkin pie I ever had,” the Sheriff said unbuckling his belt.  “No wonder Busie won so many ribbons for her pies.”

Buford cast his eyes downward. “Milfred, these forty-some years, I done all the cooking and baking.”

“What?” his hound dog jowls dropped. “Even those bodacious strawberry and rhubarb pies?” 

“Yes, sir.” 

“I’ll be a son of a gun.”    

“The first year we was married, when fair time rolled around, she was down with a flu bug. So, I done made her a blueberry pie and entered it. Darn thing won first prize. She had herself a reputation to uphold as the best pie-maker in the county. My life weren’t never the same.”

“By the way, where is she?”

“Back porch.  Reckoned she’d stay cold without the critters getting to her.”

“Cold is cold, I guess. Let’s take a look see.”

The three men walked onto the enclosed area. On the tattered, webbed chaise lounge lay a short, fat, oval-shaped, silver blob.

“What the hell happened?” the Sheriff asked. “She looks like an itty-bitty Good Year Blimp.”

Buford wrung his hands, “You know’d how she’d liked to hear the sound of her own voice?  And, how bossy and opinionated she was?”

“You had more patience with that woman than the Good Lord Hisself.”

“Thank you,” he mumbled as tears welled up. “She done said my pumpkin pie tasted like puke and that it weren’t even good enough to feed to the polecats.” 

“You can’t mean that same pie I just ate!”

His bottom lip quivered, “uh-huh.”

“Go on.”

“She was a sitting on a stool by the kitchen table peeling taters and a big old roll of duct tape was a sitting on the counter.  Before I know’d it, I done taped her hands behind her and covered her mouth.  Gee ... whiz, Milfred! I only wanted to get a word in edgewise. Just wanted her to quit bossing me around and stop criticizing.  Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I just kept taping and taping and taping.” 

 * * *

Petey slammed the door to the sparse office. “Blizzard weren’t that bad.  We could a made it back before this,” he snarled. “Three days he done kept me at that killer’s house.”

The Sheriff moseyed in, unzipping his jacket.

“What’s with him?” Emmylou raised her eyebrow.

“Darn if I know.  Never ate so good his whole life …. put on five pounds.”

“Why didn’t you arrest Buford?” the kid argued. “And what did you mean when you told him we’d get back to him?”  

“What happened?” Emmylou interrupted.

“I’ll tell you what happened,” Petey fumed.  “Buford done murdered his wife in cold-blood.”

The Sheriff winked at the dispatcher, “Junior here’s over excited.” 

“Now Petey, don’t you be exaggerating,” she said using a tone meant for a small child. “Besides, you didn’t know Busie.  She was, Sheriff, help me out . . .”

“Jeez ... I don’t wanna talk no ill of the dead.”  As an afterthought he added, “Bless her heart.”

“Well I hope that the Good Lord will bless her heart,” Emmylou continued, “cause she was a nasty, mean-spirited, loud-mouthed, cold-hearted, know’d-it-all liar.”

“That sums it up rightly.”

“It was cold-blooded murder!” Petey insisted.

“Naw,” the Sheriff answered, “maybe involuntary manslaughter.  But if Buford was charged with murder, everybody in five counties knows it’d be justifiable homicide.”

“He deserves a life sentence!” The kid seethed. 

“Being married to Busie was a life sentence,” Emmylou quipped.

“I’m outta here!” The door slammed again.

The dispatcher took out a form. “What should I write for cause of death?”

“Put down accidental suffocation.  And call Buford for me. Tell him tomorrow’s my birthday.  If he’s got any frozen strawberries and rhubarb, I’d sure appreciate one of his bodacious pies.”

“Speaking of calling, your wife wants you home now! She’s madder than a hive of hexed hornets about that cellar not getting painted.”

The Sheriff hung up his Stetson and picked up the pile of reports in the in-box. “When you talk to Buford, ask him to bring along that big old roll of duct tape.”