Burnt Technicalities


“You working pretty late tonight.”  Sheriff Dubois stood on the back porch John-Wayne-style.

Did he know what was going on?  “Just dealing with a backlog.”

His eyes slid over my shoulder.  “Just seems strange…being this late at night.”

“Business is busy.  How can I help you?”

He stepped back, pushed his hat up then exhaled sharply.  “I just stopped by to say we got another body down at the rest home.  They tried calling you a few times but you wouldn’t answer your phone.”

“Sorry, I was probably grinding some cremations.”

“Do you think you can go pick up the body?”

“I can after I finish.”

“That’s six old timers this week and I‘m tired of running up here.”

“I wish they would fix their own freezer.”

“Until that happens, you’ve got the only morgue locker in a fifty mile radius.”

Being a funeral director and crematory superintendent was a full time job.  The dead don‘t stop dying because you’re tired.  “I’ll take care of it.”

“Good.  I got other things to take care of.”  He pulled his hat back down over his eyes.  “You take care now?”

No, I was sure he knew nothing.  “I will Sheriff and thank you.”

I watched for a couple of minutes as Sheriff Dubois drove off down the dirt road and my mind drifted.  She was twelve when she went missing.  She got off the school bus to walk home and was never seen again.  Everyone in the neighborhood helped in the search. Some even went looking out in the woods around Missoula but came up empty-handed.  When I got the call she had disappeared, I dropped everything, including a box of fresh hot cremations that had come out of the oven.

Monica Pierce was my daughter.  I remember everything about her.  From the moment she was born, to her first Christmas but now there would be no more firsts.

They found her some six months later up by Bear Creek in a popular hiking area outside Missoula.  A retired LAPD Detective, out on a hike, found a bone jutting from the ground and instantly knew what it was.

A week later, the authorities named Billy Roberts as a suspect. It was all over the news.  He later drifted into a bar in Great Falls and some patrons recognized him and dropped a dime.  By the time the cops got there though, he had vanished back into the cold night.  He was a vagrant and drifter with a bad dope habit. He had served time for statutory rape of a minor and had just been paroled from Deer Lodge before killing my Monica.

I reassured Tiffany, my wife, that Roberts would be caught and sent to prison.  She had withdrawn from normal house life since Monica died and hid in a dark bedroom sipping Scotch all day.  A few months later, with no signs of Roberts being found, Tiffany packed up and left.  All she left was a note.  She was leaving and that the divorce papers were in the mail.  All I had left was work.

I downed a shot of Crown Royal as Sheriff Dubois turned a corner in the road.  I donned the facemask, thick plastic apron and rubber gloves then walked back into the oven room of the crematory.  I still had work to do.  There were six more bodies to burn.

Going to the oven control panel, I remembered where I left off.  I peered through the glass portal into the burn chamber.  Billy Roberts was still where I left him.  He thrashed about against the thick nylon rope that held him to a backboard and I could hear his muffled screams through the duct tape wrapped around his mouth.  He squinted his eyes and I saw he was crying.  He had managed to free a hand and was frantically clawing at the bindings.

On a drive back from Missoula, I found him passed out beside a ditch with an empty bottle of Jack Daniels next to him.  It was one hell-of-a long shot in finding him.  I should’ve turned him in but other ideas came to mind.  I couldn’t afford a legal technicality that would assure his release in the future.

The human body burns at around 1500 degrees.  I prayed that Hell was going to be a lot hotter than this.  I closed my eyes and hit the button to ignite the burners.

~ fin ~

John L. Thompson currently lives in New Mexico with his wife of twenty-nine years. When he is not searching for lost remnants of the old west, he can be found working on several writing projects or collecting antique or vintage paperbacks. He is the current cover designer for the Casca the Eternal Mercenary series written by Tony Roberts, and the occasional graphic artist for Yellow Mama e-zine. He is the author of Truck Stop and Monkey Wrench. His third novel Dead Blow, the final installment in the Truck Stop trilogy, is set to be released in September 2021 by Dusty Desert Press.