The body parts were delivered in cool boxes to the morgue, an annex to the Crime Laboratory where Eileen Holliday, no less, was tasked to reconstruct the body. It was a gruesome task, as organs and pieces of tissue were passed between her team around the necropsy slab from plastic glove to glove, somewhat akin to assembling a multi-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.
Slowly but surely a physical picture emerged as bit by bit the torso took shape and...it gradually clicked to her horror that the mutilated form was none other than Brannigan, her stalker, and... she was holding his prick!
Willoughby needed other pictures on the wall like in the best crime movies (The Usual Suspects?) but the cupboard was bare. The team briefing with his detectives dishing out orders was what he craved, the very adrenaline of the job, but there was nothing to go on.
The scrupulous search of the crime scene had yielded no clues as to the identity of the victim, no credit cards, wallet or cellphone and the ripped and mangled clothing was boring basic Walmart, no tell tales. Could the assailant have intended to keep his identity hidden, perhaps on a murder mission himself?
Willoughby stomped around the office staring at the case board, bare except for a picture of Calley looking for all the world guilty, photographed against blank concrete in the charge room and a green harvester parked in the corn.
It was a curious investigation, Willoughby had nobody to interview, other than Logan, and that had been over in 45 minutes, despite restraining Collins who was tugging at the bit eager to work over the ‘culprit’.
There being no missing people reports to pursue at this stage (Brannigan being a transient loner perhaps) the Sheriff’s focus switched to the autopsy.
Eileen could see herself putting down roots in this quiet corner of America with Calley as her ticket - Eileen would be Calley’s Mustang Sally and it was he that had to put his flat feet on the ground.
Calley reckoned he’d be relatively safe from arrest if he stuck to his story so he confided in no one, including Eileen.
There were other compensations: mortified by his trauma Eileen gave special womanly support beyond the normal to divert his mind from the terrible event. Calley soaked it up not believing his luck at this unexpected upside in his tricky situation.
It was quickly established that Eileen would brook no monkey business. After her boss left the Thanksgiving office party unexpectedly early, bow-legged, face etched in pain, it was reliably rumoured that she had grabbed him by the nuts in reprisal for an indecent proposal, boldly demanding respect which, give her credit, she got instead of the sack.
She met Calley, a young Burt Reynolds type, son of the Logan farming dynasty, at a harvest festival; love and sexual attraction at first sight quickly escalated into a steamy relationship, strengthened by the mutual bond of rock music and 1960’s convertibles.
Calley had said it was a man, about his age in his early 30s but couldn’t remember much else. The autopsy was going to be critical: the body was comprehensively diced into lumps of white skin and pink flesh with some of the characteristics soon identified, in particular a complete scrotum that had miraculously survived and an impressive John Thomas, flaccid but withered and bruised. Large tufts of pubic hair tangled with husks of maize, taken with the private parts suggested a white male Caucasian with ginger hair, an sign that he could have been a stud of Irish descent.
Willoughby was a dying breed, an old school cop with a conscience, who unlike his hot headed deputy, Collins, didn’t jump to conclusions. In his long service he’d put faith in securing the hard evidence, constructing a case brick by brick until there was no reasonable doubt; although he was uneasy about Calley’s account he would give him the benefit of the doubt until he had the compelling facts to nail him. Collins, disagreeing with his chief, would’ve taken a contrasting approach; given a free rein he’d have had Calley chained and thrown into the County slammer, questions asked afterwards.
It wasn’t lost on Calley that he lived in a death penalty State, although the authorities were gracious enough to offer the alternative of death by gas chamber or lethal injection. He didn’t relish spending years on death row mulling over his choice: consequently Calley made a crucial immediate decision; he’d deny all knowledge of the attacker and trust in the Lord, hang the consequences. (Not an option)
What’s more whether, gas chamber, electric chair, lethal injection or life time rap he couldn’t bear to lose Eileen so finally when he was beginning to feel so optimistic about their future.
Ryan Brannigan arrived in Plainsville recently with no history, immediately posing a threat as, being an unashamed ladies man, none of the town’s womenfolk was safe.
Brannigan was unarguably half dead when pushed into the cutters but no way could the most practised fabricator in front of a lie detector dress up the death as an accident.
Calley’s paltry knowledge of criminal law had come from repeats of Hawaii Five-O; the finer points of distinction between charges of murder 1 and murder 2 were lost in his febrile state. Whatever happened he had to avoid being booked for either.
Calley realised that he was in a dangerously serious predicament because he knew that a plausible motive existed for Calley wanting Ryan Brannigan dead which in the hands of a good advocate in front of a jury would have done for him - Brannigan, a loathsome sex pest had taken an obsessive fancy to Calley’s girl making brazen passes at her in the Longhorse Bar in plain view of multiple witnesses and harassing her all evening at the Saturday hoedown much to Calley’s annoyance that brought them to the brink of violence. There was no disguising the friction between the men.
His story though didn’t really stack up; claiming he didn’t know the victim, an anonymous hobo, who’d just appeared from thin air in a psychotic attack, then tripped and fallen to his grizzly death in a struggle - surely a somewhat far fetched stretch of imagination?
But Calley had little time to think his story properly through before the police arrived on the scene - all that mattered was the pounding question that ricocheted inside his head - had he really committed murder or would a jury think it self-defence in the heat of the moment? He had to keep it simple.
Sheriff Willoughby was no fool - he knew a murder when he saw one, but he’d never come across a murder weapon before as gigantic as a John Deere S780, a sledge hammer to crack a nut, but there was always a first time and he relished the fresh challenge because a gory homicide spiced up life at the station in contrast to the endless tedium of traffic misdemeanours, marital bust ups or substance abuse.
Calley to his credit had come forward voluntarily but with the prairie and the cab of his harvester awash with blood he hardly had any choice.
Calley turned down the music as the harvester continued its computer controlled progress across the prairie towards a rendezvous with the farm truck in the distance.
He lugged the twitching body to the front platform, casting it down into the cutters which like a giant electric blender shredded the corpse in seconds leaving a long red streak across the field and neat hamburger sized chunks of meat in its bowels.
Calley would work out a story for the County Sheriff with no shred of remorse as Brannigan was a two-bit shit and had no business messing with his girl.
The men fought ferociously, like piranhas in a fish tank.
The intruder fatally misjudged the situation. Calley was no soft touch; his love for Eileen stirred reflexes deeply buried; the primitive instinct for survival took over.
Overcoming initial shock, Calley grabbed the wrench under his seat, smashing his rival’s skull, blood spraying the windows, heavy metal rock drowning out the attacker’s screams, mimed by his contorted expressions to the soaring riffs.
Only then he realised it was Brannigan, hanging halfway out of the door, life draining fast from his devastated face in this vast expanse, no witness other than God.
Boiling with resentment, shielded by the dust storm, he dashed out of the thicket, scaling the back of the combined harvester in one explosive leap - Calley sat coolly up front, oblivious in his headphones and Raybans, satellite guided, a modern day cowboy, solo astride a whirring green monster in a sizzling sea of corn.
The rough shaven-headed brute, slipping and sliding for grip clambered over the beast; and reaching the cab ripped open the door, bursting into Calley’s air-conditioned cocoon. The massive machine ground on robotically through the corn cutting a relentless swathe as if nothing was untoward.