Crime of the Century

Seth Chambers

© Copyright 2007 by Seth Chambers


Photo of crop circles.

 As soon as Sheriff Timothy Carson stepped in the door, his secretary flashed an apologetic smile. Just as he was about to ask what was wrong, a voice boomed out from the next room: “But they'll never git me, I tell ya that right now, oh yes siree!”

 “Gwen?” Carson said, stretching out her name. “Is that old Mr. Always Wright I hear in my office?”

 Gwen bit her lip. “Sorry, boss, didn't know where else to stick him. Here, have some coffee. And a donut. I picked them up fresh this morning. Am I forgiven?”

Carson accepted the steaming cup of java and selected a long john from the box. “You have earned absolution, m'dear. Well, off I go to chat with our favorite citizen.”

 “Good luck,” Gwen called after him. “And happy Monday!”

For half a second, Carson started to raise one hand to knock on his own office door. He stopped himself, shook his head, and stepped through. Inside the office, Thaddeus Wright seemed unaware of the sheriff's entrance, so wrapped up was he in his latest tirade. The old man preached to the empty air about trespassers and government conspiracies and outer space folk. He stomped about and thrashed the air with pointing fingers, looking for all the world like a Southern Baptist preacher on a roll. Or on crack.

Carson took a bite of donut and washed it down with some coffee. Strong coffee, thank God. He cleared his throat. Loudly.

Wright froze in mid-rant and snapped his attention over to the sheriff. He produced an antique pocket watch from his overalls and looked at it pointedly. “Seven o'five,” he announced. “And you're just now getting a start on the day, eh? Know how long I've been up, Sheriff?”

 “The hours you keep are none of my concern, Mr. Wright. Now, is there something I can help you with?”

 “Darn tootin' there is!” Wright exploded. “You can go arrest yourself some Satanists for starters.”

 “Except we've got a little something called Freedom of Religion in this country.”

“Not in my field we don't!” the old man sputtered. “I don't take to no riffraff meddling about in my wheat, no siree, had me some hippie-types awhile back done set up their tents there and I done drove them off...”

 “So I recall.”

 “I went and told 'em, this was my field and if they didn't wanna listen to me they could listen to my sawed-off, yes siree.”

 “Please!” Carson said, raising his voice but keeping control. “Did these Satanists or whoever they are do any damage?”

 “I'm here to tell ya they did! Blasted hoodlums! Or maybe they was aliens.”

 “You mean, illegal aliens? Like from Mexico?”

 “No, I'm talking about outer space folk! Like they done found out at Roswell.”

 “And these aliens are in your wheat field?”

 “What have I been tellin' you for the last ten minutes!”

 “I'm afraid outer space folks might be just a bit hard to arrest, sir.”

 Wright's face reddened and the old man sputtered again. “This is all just some joke to you, ain't it, Sheriff? I bet you're in on it, ain't ya? I'm on to ya!”

 For one second, Carson tried to imagine what went on in Wright's mind. Maybe the government, Satanists and hippies were banding together, along with the outer space folk and Elvis of course, in an Evil Plot to convert the world to... hmmm, vegetarianism, maybe. To cover the smile he felt about to creep over his face, he said, “Did they damage anything?”

 Wright reached deep in one overall pocket and pulled out a handful of Polaroid photos. “I climbed up the side of my silo and took these pitchers,” he said. “Now, if that ain't proof, I don't know what is.”

 The photos were of the wheat field, only the crop had been bent over in places to form complex, geometric shapes. “Crop circles,” Carson muttered. Looking over the pics, he felt the hair on the back of his neck start to rise.

“What's that you say?”

 “I said, 'crop circles.' That's what these are called. They used to think they were done by extraterrestrials but..”

 “I knew it!”

 “But it turns out it's usually some good old boys with a couple sticks, some lengths of rope, a few beers and too much time on their hands.”

Wright eyed him suspiciously. “You sure seem to know a lot about these here crop circles.”

 “No, I just happened to see a documentary. But that aside, it does look like these good old boys or Satanists or Elvis...”

 “What about Elvis?”

 “Never mind. It looks like somebody trespassed...”

 “That's just what I've been trying to TELL ya!” 

 “So let's go out to your place and have a look around.”


Sherrif Carson followed Wright's rusty brown Ford to the scene of the crime. The crime of the century, the way the codger had carried on about it. Leafing through the photos on the way, the images still gave him the creeps, despite that documentary's rational explanation of the phenomena. A large and extremely complex pattern had been laid out in the wheat field. Somebody had apparently gone to a great deal of trouble. “It's nothing,” he said aloud, pulling into the farmer's drive.

Wright bounded out of his pickup and launched back into his tirade. 

Doesn't he ever let up? Carson wondered. He got out of the cruiser and walked over to the field. Then he laughed.

“Something funny, Sheriff?”

 “Yeah. I think I've got a lead. Look there, those tractor tracks. They belong to you?”

 Wright studied the indentations Carson pointed out. “Nope. Too big to be from mine.”

 “You sure?”

 “Damn right. They're not from my John Deere.”

 “Well, they seem to lead right up to your field. And over here it looks like the tractor made a turnaround and headed back to where it came from.”

 “Only one tractor around here big enough to make these tracks, and that's down the way at the old Meert farm. Meert was a good man, but he done passed on. Now a couple young punks done got the place.”

 “Okay, I'll go have a little talk with them.”

 Carson let Wright ride in the cruiser to the old Meert farm after making the old man promise to stay “out of trouble.”

“Oh, the judge is just gonna throw the book at those hoodlums, yes sir...”

 Carson found himself both relieved, and oddly disappointed, that the old man had stopped blaming Satanists and outer space folk. As soon as they pulled into the Meert farm, Wright pointed.

“There they be now!”

A big Massey Ferguson tractor was just roaring around the side of the barn. A beefy man with coal black eyes drove while a thin, younger man rode on the back, standing on the hitch and clinging to the back of the driver's seat. Carson stepped from the cruiser, caught the driver's eye and held up a hand. The driver down shifted with a horrendous gnashing of gears and brought the tractor to a halt. The engine, idling, chuffed, sputtered and belched like a restless, mechanical beast.

Wright had also stepped out of the cruiser but, for once, was quiet. Carson stepped up to the tractor. The rear wheels were almost as tall as he was. “Morning, boys.”

 “Shore is,” said the skinny man, bounding down from the back of the tractor and advancing toward Carson. He wore jeans, work boots, a sleeveless T-shirt and yellow work gloves. “Name's B-Bob. Short for Billy Bob. And this here be Stan.”

 Stan stared down at them without expression. “Satan, more like,” Wright muttered.

“Somethin' we can do you for, sheriff?” Billy Bob asked.

“Yes, you can tell me your whereabouts last night, for starters.”

 “Well now, I would just have to check me my date book.”

 Carson had never seen this young man before but got a feel for him readily enough: sly as a weasel, quick as a whip and just itching for trouble. Somebody to keep a sharp eye on.

“Tell ye what, Sheriff. I'll just have me limo driver here run me over to yon office and I can look up yesterday's transactions for ye.”

 “Or, you could just answer the...”

 Suddenly, over by the barn, Wright was screaming: “Oh, lookit here, Sheriff, I done got me some ev'dence!” He held up two long poles with ropes affixed. “Didn't ya say that them circle thingies was done with a contraption like this?”

 “HEEE YA!” the skinny man called out, jumping on the back of the tractor. “Giddyup!”

 The driver slammed the Massey Ferguson into gear and the tractor lurched forward, huge tires flinging sod. B-Bob let loose with a war whoop as Stan crunched the transmission into second.

“Can't find it, grind it!” B-Bob shouted. “Yeeee ha!”

 “Git on after dem!” Wright shouted.

Carson wanted to laugh. Did these good 'ole boys really expect to make a getaway by tractor? Especially since he knew where they lived? Stepping into the cruiser, he snatched up the radio and called in to base.

“Go ahead, boss,” came Gwen's voice.

Wright bounded into the passenger seat and, again, berated him to give chase. Carson glared hard enough to quiet the old man. He keyed up the radio, told Gwen there might be a spot of trouble and to send his deputy over. Then, feeling like a Keystone Cop, he switched on his lights and siren and set out after the good 'ole boys.

It didn't take long to catch up.

“Eat our dust, Oinky!” B-Bob shouted. “Go on, shift this bad boy into Q.A.!”

 “What'd he say?” Carson asked.

“He said he's about to shift into Q.A.!” said Wright.

“What... What the hell is Q.A.?”

 “Git 'em before they...”

 Stan shoved the shifter forward all the way and the big Massey Ferguson roared. Then, its front wheels lifted from the ground so the tractor was actually wheelie-walking.

“I don't believe this...”

 Then the rear wheels also rose from the ground.

Carson slammed on the brakes. “What the...”

 “You done let them shift into Q.A., you did!” Wright wailed.

The huge Massey Ferguson rose higher, B-Bob war-whooping while Stan steered and shifted yet again. The tractor adjusted direction, tilted up, shot into to the heavens, and disappeared.

“What the hell is Q.A.?” Carson screamed.

“Quantum Acceleration,” snorted Wright. “As if you didn't know.” 

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