Chapter One, In the rough
The early March day was blustery, with an overcast gray sky, and no hint of spring yet in the air this dull morning. The snow along the roads, sidewalks, or anywhere else it had been piled during the long winter was in that form that was a mixture of ice, grit and ice crystals with partial pieces of debris visible here and there hidden for many months in the deep snow. It couldn’t be made into a snowball and crunched with the sound of breaking glass if you happened to walk on it. It was that ugly snow mash up, from thawing and refreezing. Occasionally there was a day or two above freezing but that would be just a temporary tease.
Elmer Nelson walked his little West Highland white terrier; better know as a “westie”, Annika, taking the chilly morning with the humor of funeral parlor director. Elmer’s wife, Greta, loved the retired Swedish golfer, Annika Sorenstam, and equally loved her little cutsie rootsie widdle special girl Annika. “Sheeeessshhh”, muttered Elmer with his coat parka collar up, his fur line cap pulled down tight on his head, “if ja loved her so damn much you be the one doing the morning walk… hmmpfff.”
He walked along the path of the 5th fairway of the Walleye Wacker National Links course. Greta and he, but mostly Greta, heck it was totally Greta, wanted a home on a golf course, which Elmer felt was fairly ridiculous in a climate where you had four solid months of golf weather at best. But it did give them some nice privacy which balanced out the occasional stray golf ball that landed in the peony garden or the real hacker who could actually hit their house. Elmer was happy to have the place to himself for a few days as Greta had gone to Arizona to see some her friends and play some golf. He liked this break from the honey do list, you know dar, “Elmer go do dis and Elmer go do dat’. His own private joke was he could fix anything with some duct tape and Elmer’s do. Instead of Elmer’s glue, you see, never mind.
Elmer took the cart path through the Walleye Wacker National Links course for his morning walk with Annika. The cart path was pretty free of snow with the occasional icy patch, but provided a safer and more private walk for Elmer and Annika. As they reached a valley in the pathway, Elmer turned and looked a full 360 to make sure no one else was around.
His friend from the Legion lodge, Bert “Bugs” Bunetti, had a medical marijuana prescription for chronic pain from a back injury. Bert had stopped by the house recently and chided Elmer, saying, “Elmer you should try some of dis weed here, it really mellows you out.”
“Mello smello, I don’t need no hippie crap at my age. I was raised on a little schnapps and brandy and a whole lot of Budweiser. That’s the only bud I need, Bugs”, retorted Elmer. “I don’t want to start smoking again, after kicking the cancer sticks for almost twenty years there dontcha know?”
“I hear you there, Fuddster”, said Bert, who alternated taking an inhale from his portable oxygen tank and then taking a big drag on his non-filtered Camel cigarette. “You know one of these days I should quit these bastards, but then again, what’s the effing point at this stage of life.” They both chuckled for the lack of a better response. Bert liked to tease Elmer by calling him Elmer Fudd or the Fuddster, Spud the Fudd or Fuddpounder the Fuddmeister, and more Fudds than you need to know about; whenever he could. It was even more fun when they were together and meet someone new and Bert would introduce them as Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunne –tee. Then invariably Bert would say in his gravelly, well-travelled voice… “Ahhhhhh What’s up Doc.” And Elmer would let out a big guffaw for effect, but he really couldn’t stand to hear it another time if the truth be told. He used to, once upon a time, join the routine and in a feeble imitation say “ Ahhh stop you wascally wabbit” But it had lost its charm after about the hundredth time. However, Bert had been a long-time poker, fishing, bowling, hunting, camping and drinking buddy so he forgave Bert’s annoying habit.
“You know, you don’t have to smoke this stuff to catch a buzz. Heck I’ll have Louise bake some brownies up for you sometime. Oh you know what? I got one with me right now come to think of it… you know, Fuddy, I must have spaced it out. ” Bert broken out in a belly shaker and Elmer rolled his eyes in mock disbelief, but Elmer thought to himself that Bugs sure had been laughing more frequently than he use to. Anyway Bert left one for Elmer to try and Elmer put it in his winter jacket for just the right opportunity to come along.
Well this was as good a time as a nudder to give a brownie a try. All he had planned for the rest of the morning was to watch the Weather Channel and polish his bowling ball. He took another look around and then said to himself, “for crying out loud Elmer your eating a brownie, who cares or who would suspect it was tainted’! He took a small bite and it tasted just like any other brownie he ever had. He felt the lease tug him slightly off balance as Annika was very curious about something off the cart path. “Hold your horsies you little ankle biter.” He took another bite and chewed deliberately. ‘Geez what is the big deal I don’t feel any different’, thought Elmer. He took a third bite when he felt the lease jerk out of his hand and he almost tumbled over landing on the ground landing with one knee. ‘Damn that’s gonna hurt for a few days’, Elmer groaned.
Annika was going ballistic barking and scratching at a snow pile some ten or so feet off the path. Elmer realized he had lost the rest of his brownie and he looked down on the surrounding ground for it He was about to give Annika a good tongue lashing when he was taken aback by the black and white contrast of the ice on the pathway near where he had fallen. How the texture interplayed with the dull light. What incredible detail of the encapsulated air bubbles and the debris of the past Fall that was trapped in the ice forming a rich tapestry of sublime and delicate imagery. How the dead-gray light added to a contrast of the air bubbles in white, surrounded by the harsh dark, dare I say, evil-like black ice, which interplayed in what could be described as a tectonic struggle; perhaps symbolizing the endless battle of good and …
“Holy shit dare, where is that damn dog!” Elmer snapped out of his momentary mental detour. She hadn’t strayed too far away and was sniffing and busy pawing at the snow like Hugh Hefner in a hot tub full of Playboy bunnies.
“Now you listen hear young lady, I don’t appreciate almost landing on my kiester and breaking an ass bone. You come here right now.” Elmer said at first with some anger but had to laugh at the image of an ass bone. But uncharacteristically Annika was completely transfixed on something in the snow and paid her master no attention . Elmer decided the only solution to this problem was to pick up Annika and carry her until she forgot about the hidden treasure.
“Probably jost a stray golf ball you stupid mutt, you can’t wait for Spring dare, ei e e oooooooohhhhhhh shit….”. Elmer froze midsentence. He looked down as he was beginning to pick up Annika and there in the ice/snow mix was a woman’s hand with painted red fingernails sticking out of the snow where Annika had been working. But if that weren’t bad enough, he happened to see a pair of eyes wide open looking up at him frozen in a patch of ice a couple a feet from the exposed hand. “Oh my God, holy shit, Oh my God” shouted Elmer and he fell backward in shock and awe shit. As he fell, his momentum caused him to fling Annika about 10 feet in the opposite direction. He hit his head on the rock hard snow and temporarily passed out.
But Annika’s constant licking and horrible breathe soon brought Elmer back to consciousness. Quickly realizing what he had seen, he pushed himself backwards over the snow with his boots, desperately trying to put some distance between him and the dead body. “Oh my golly, wumping wiminies, oh shit, oh, oh, maybe I am hallucinating, I’m tripping out ja dats it….” He finally got on his feet, and started to go in one direction and turned to go in another, doing a beautiful Buster Keaton imitation. His head was groggy and dopey and sneezy from the fall and the residual effects of the hemp brownie. Should he get the brownie and not leave evidence he had been eating it? Should he run home and call 911? Should he change his newly soiled underwear and wash them out or just toss them in the garbage? Should he use extra buffing compound to put a real shine on his bowling ball? And why this strange craving for Oreos?
He ended up heading for home and turned around half way up the hill when he realized he didn’t have Annika. But Annika who at first felt torn between staying with the buried buffet on the golf course or obeying the guaranteed kibble provider in the form of Elmer, it was an easy call. Speaking of calls she finally got down to business and did her morning duty. Elmer decided to leave Annika’s smoldering calling card lie where it was, rather than go back towards the body again. He knew had to make the phone call to the police and he really needed to change his drawers. “Come here girl”, he called and Annika dashed with many small steps and made a pathetic leap that required Elmer to bend more than this 72 year old body, especially his newly bruised knee, desired. I guess just like their human counterparts, white dogs can’t jump.
Hertz was playing yet another frustrating game of FreeCell on his Milacky Police Department PC. It was vintage early 2000’s with Windows mid-Nineties operating system. It was good for basic word processing and some simple games. He was losing his fifth straight game and was sure the computer had it in for him. It was slow at the Homicide desk as it often was in late winter. He had little to do. Most of his cases where closed and he worked on some cold cases but they seem to be staying cold. But soon cabin fever would overcome some Minnesotans and there be a domestic killing or a bar brawl that ends in a bad way or someone who invariably gets snagged in a bad drug deal and gets ground up like they did in that movie Fargo dare ala the woodchopper disposal method. ‘How french frying original is dat?’, Hertz smirked to himself. His biggest fear was that he get put on temporary meter collections or property crimes. He didn’t really want to even think the thought, but a good old whodunit would be a nice break in the tedium.
His desk phone rang and he picked it up casually, keeping his eye on the screen. “Ja, Ballbrakker here, Homicide Department.”
“Hey Dad you sound so Joe Friday like dare, man like a real square daddy-o.” it was the voice of his only child Belinda.
“Hey yourself, Bee. You never call me at work, what gives?”
“Just like I thought. Do you remember something you need to do today, Papa Smurf?” Belinda said disgustedly. “This is the day we take Oppah to the new senior living center, dahhhhhhhh!! Please dad, tell me you didn’t forget that we have a 3pm date to get him did you?”
Internally Hertz let out a mighty oh shit, but he kept his outer Swedish calm and cool façade in tack. “No… no way Say Hey Kid, I mean… it’s so slow here you could blow cannon off and not hit anyone unless I weren’t looking. Nope, got it right here on the old calendar on my smart phone dare dontcha know.” He patted his various pockets hoping he hadn’t left it in the car or at home.
“Jeepers, you Creeper. Dad I have seen your smart phone and I don’t think you know half the functions on it, so I really doubt you use your calendar at all. Do ja huh? I mean I just tried your cell phone and all I got was your lame automated message: ‘ Hey its Hertz….. (pause)…. Donit?, leave a message, bye.’ Real original Lameoh.”
“I’ll see you at 3pm at Grandpa’s… I … I …I’ll see ja there. Bye Bee” Hertz hung up his phone. Why couldn’t he remember that he had this today? He had a mental block when it came to his Dad, but today was particularly hard for him. Bjork, his father, had reached a point where it was decided by his companion Britta and the rest of the family, that it would be best for him to move to an assisted living center. There was times Bjork would just wonder from his home and old woodshop, into strange places like the water treatment plant or that one time at the dry cleaners, where he kept saying ‘why you give my shirts so much fuckie starch’, in a weird Chinese accent, but the owners of the cleaners were the Petersen’s not some Oriental family; or in the Taco Shell and he order seven Lutefisk tacos with extra lye to go. Bjork was not happy to be making the move, but when he found out they had a Clogging club at the new center he reluctantly agreed to go.
‘Well its 1pm, and I can get some filing down and get the move taken care of and see Dancing with the Semi Stars tonight.’ His new monthly assortment of wine in the box had arrived as well, to help take the boredom down a notch or two. He wished he had a faster computer at work ; he had a purchase he wanted to make, but he have to wait until he got home.
We was about to tackle the pile of files on his grey metal desk when his phone rang again. Thinking it was Belinda to berate, er, remind him of some other shortcoming he answered curtly, “Ja Papa Smurf here.”
“Ah… I’m looking for Detective Ballbrakker”, said a male voice that Hertz recognized.
“Oh hey, it’s me, Rod. Thought it was my daughter calling me back”, said the slightly embarrassed Hertz.
“Hertz, I am down here at the Walleye Wacker, off the Walleye Wilds neighborhood, where we got a suspicious looking death. I think you better come down and see what you think”, said Rod Fischerman, a long-time Milacky cop.
“Oh geez, I got something going this afternoon, isn’t anyone else available?”
“I tried Mucus and Abby and got their voice mail, I think you’ll find this more interesting than the usual corpses we get around here.” Rod said, “and I got a thermos of newly brewed Kamasutra Killer Coffee with your name all over it.”
“Well crypes sake, why didn’t you tell me that in the first place”, smiled Hertz who felt maybe life in Homicide wasn’t going to be dead much longer.