Prospect City Councilman Danny Swope had two bad habits. He drank too much and he beat his wife. Throw in an overbearing personality, and Police Chief Sam Jenkins isn’t surprised when Danny is found shot to death. Jenkins’ investigation takes him into the world of cowboy action shooters and his own deadly fast draw contest.
She had a black-and-blue mouse under her left eye and the beginnings of a cauliflower ear—not things you’d expect to see on a fifty-year-old woman with plenty of money.
She sat on the exam table, a doctor to her left and a nurse on her right. Sergeant Stan Rose stood next to me, 10 feet from that small corner of the emergency room.
“I doubt you have a concussion,” the doctor said, “but it would be best if you stayed the night.”
The patient shook her head gingerly.
“OK, but you should see your family doctor tomorrow.”
The woman said nothing. The doctor understood.
“Or if you have problems, come back and see us,” he offered. “Sign the papers for Teresa and you’re free to go.” He smiled and walked away.
The nurse began her explanation as if it had been recorded. I thought of the dolls my sister had years ago—pull the ring on their neck and listen to a recorded message. Maybe graduates had rings installed as they left nursing school.
Ella Mae Swope slowly slid off the exam table, grimaced at a stabbing pain in her side, and took a moment to steady herself. She turned around and signed three hospital forms while resting the clipboard on the table’s surface. The nurse swept the privacy curtain back against the wall. Ella Mae started her walk to the lobby.
“Ella, we need to talk,” I said.
“I’m really not in the mood, chief.”
“I won’t keep you long, and I have to insist.”
I looked at my watch—quarter to midnight. I looked at Stanley. “Go ahead and close up shop. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He nodded and left.
“The waiting room is crowded,” I said, “Let’s walk down the hall to the coffee shop.”
Mrs. Swope followed me, declined my offer to buy her coffee, and chose a table away from the half dozen other patrons scattered around the room.
I assumed Ella had once been an attractive woman. Actually, she still was, until you saw the pain and hopelessness behind her outward appearance. Too many years of getting tuned up, and the stress of living with a violent man, hardened a once-pretty face. The extra few pounds she wore probably came from no longer caring, or from a few too many alcoholic calories each day. Her medium-length brown hair needed a combing, I noticed, as we sat at a small, round table in the hospital coffee shop.
“Are you going to sign the assault complaint this time?” I asked.
“What’s the use? Nothing will happen to him, nothing will change. You won’t do a damn thing yourself,” she said, and ran a hand through her hair, messing it up a little more.
“Ella, I could jump up and down on this table telling you that’s not true, and you wouldn’t believe me. I’ll just say this once—I will do something, but you have to sign the complaint and follow through by going to court.”
“What’s the use?”
“What’s the sense of being used as a punching bag every time Danny has a bad day?”
“He’s not a bad guy. It’s only when he has trouble at the yard or when he’s been drinking.”
“How many times has he smacked the crap out of you? How many black eyes, bruised ribs, or other physical damage do you have to suffer before it sinks in that getting beaten is not part of a good marriage?”
“I know you’re right, it’s just…”
“Stop.” I held up a hand to squelch her rationalization. “Your excuses may work on you, but not on me. Bottom line, Ella, come into the PD tomorrow and we’ll do the paperwork, or not—your choice.”
“All right, I’ll sign. But are you really going to lock up a member of the city council?”
“I haven’t had to before, but sure, why not? Danny needs some quality time with a good shrink. If a court order is the only way to get him there, so be it.”
“You’re a city employee, Sam, they’ll make your life miserable.”
“I’m the cop—it’s my job to make people miserable. Politicians are pussycats. Besides, that’s my problem.
“Now for tonight,” I said, “where can I take you, mother, daughter, or sister’s?”
“My sister’s, please.”
* * *
Later that morning, I picked up my assault warrant at the Blount County Justice Center. The chief assistant district attorney told me I was nuts. I often annoy her. Moira Menzies lectured me on the trouble I might encounter in prosecuting a local politician for domestic violence. An accurate assessment, of course, only I didn’t much care.
Copyright© Wayne Zurl. All rights reserved.