There were three consolidated schools in Warren County. Jennifer Austin had attended elementary school at Southeastern Warren. The principal greeted us with, “It is just awful about Jennifer. Do you have whoever did it in custody?”
“To be honest, we are still investigating. That’s why we would like to speak with Jennifer’s teacher. I did call yesterday to set up the appointment,” Simpson said. The tone of his voice was almost friendly, at least for him it was. There was just a hint of ‘do it or else’ at the very end.
“Yes I am making Ms Smothers available. One of our staff will escort you to an empty room, where she will meet you in a few moments. Is there anything else?” Simpson was about to let her walk, when I butted into the conversation.
“Ma’am did you ever have any dealing with the family that you can remember?” I asked.
“There was some question about the child’s eligibility for the free breakfast program here. The majority of our kids are eligible for it. I think it was cleared up. Just a second I’ll look.” She turned to her computer and I glanced at Simpson who seemed to be angry. Fuck him you can never have too much information.
“Yes, Jennifer was added after the school year started. That usually means a change in the family’s income after the original enrollment period.” The principal said all happy with herself that she could help.
“Why the hell did you go into all that,” Simpson asked as we waited in the small room. Mrs Smothers was a little late it seemed.
“Simpson, I was taught that no fact is immaterial in an investigation. Did you know something had changed the month before this happened. Something serious enough for the county to change the child’s benefits?” I asked.
“No, but it probably means nothing. We will find out though just for you,” he answered.
“That’s a good plan,” I said that about thirty seconds before the not quite gorgeous Mrs Smothers entered the room. She was awfully well dress and made up to be an elementary school teacher. I wondered what she was up to when she wasn’t babysitting children who were mostly on public assistance. Life was getting so screwed up.
“So Mrs. Smother,” Simpson began after he introduced himself and then me. “Could you tell us about Jennifer Austin and her family?”
Mrs. Smothers had a warm voice. It should have been friendly but it seemed to be warm but reserved somehow. Oh yeah she was definitely up to something.
“I really know very little about Jennifer except her school life. She was a good student and well behaved,” Smothers said.
“Did she ever appear with bruises, scratchers, or burns, anything like that?” Simpson asked.
“Nothing more than what could have been a play injury, which is what she said they were. She never complained of being clumsy,” Smothers said. Clumsy was abused kid speak for being pushed down the stairs. Sometimes it was being jerked around by an arm. “In other words she did not seem to be physically abused.”
“Were there any rumors among the kids about her,” Simpson asked.
“If thee were, I never heard them,” she said.
“You got any questions?” he asked me. Probably because I had forced my way into the interview with the principal.
“Just a couple, Ms Smothers did Jennifer appear to be well taken care of?” I asked.
“I’m not sure I know what you mean,” she replied.
“Sure you do. I’m not going to cause you any problems for sharing information. This isn’t a custody hearing. Jennifer is past that now. So were her parents taking at least average care of her.” I said.
“There might have been some neglect issues. I noticed Jenny in the same outfit more than one day. Often she seemed to have been on her own the night before. That does happen in these mountain families. It’s is almost tradition to let kids grow up almost wild.” She looked out the window as she spoke.
“So Jenny was likely the product of neglect,” Simpson said. “You saw the signs but you did nothing, doesn’t that bother you?”
“Of course it bothers me. I am stretched between my job, and what I think is right. If I put the school system in jeopardy of a being sued, I’m out of a job.”
She spoke to Simpson, so I got to watch her demeanor. She really was concerned about the job thing. She obviously didn’t need the money from teaching, so maybe she was a dedicated teacher. I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. “Yeah politics, its all about the politics.”
“And the money,” Simpson said. “School administrators will walk a hundred miles to avoid putting that federal money at risk.
That was pretty much the end of the interviews at Jenny’s school. Simpson wanted to have lunch then move on to the neighbors. I had no real objections, except I was trying to fast until dinner. I considered a small salad at a fast food place and water to drink as fasting. So I watched the son of a bitch eat a Big Mac, while I ate grass clippings. My mood had not improved as the day wore on.
From the plaza by the interstate’s McDonald’s we drove to the crime scene. “If you want to talk to neighbors, you have to go where the neighbors are,” Simpson said it as if it were a revelation from God.
We found an older couple sitting on their porch two houses north of the crime scene. “Hello there, I’m Deputy Simpson, and this is Deputy Porter. Do you folks have a minute?” Simpson asked.
“Son we are retired we have all the time in the world. Neither my wife nor I have anyplace we need to be at any certain time. In other words ask your questions.” the white haired man replied.
“Well then let’s just cut right to it. What do you know about the Austin family?” Simpson asked.
“They are loud,” the old woman said. “That’s what I know.”
“Do they fight a lot?” Simpson said trying to press for more.
“Not since she shot him,” the old man said.
“That does tend to put an end to the fighting,” Simpson agreed. “So were they bad to fight before she shot him?”
“They was loud,” the old woman said almost angrily.
“Yeah, but were there fighting?” Simpson asked.
“Mostly it was loud music and cars coming and going all the time. They had way more company than friends and family, if you know what I mean.” the old man said.
“Were they selling drugs,” Simpson asked.
“I don’t know what they was doing. There were just lots of people coming and going,” the old man repeated.
We were sitting at a picnic table with two large coffees from the closest convenience store when Simpson said, “After that 911 call and the investigation that house was searched. I am sure it was searched thoroughly.”
“She had time to load the drugs and take them with her. It would explain her putting it in the wind so quickly. This is getting too complicated for me.” I said. “You are the big time detective, so take me home and call me when you figure it out,” I suggested.
“We definitely have enough to cast doubt on her veracity. Still I want to know who really killed who out there, and why?” he said. Then he looked at me and asked, “Don’t you?”
“Curious yes, but it ain’t my job mon,” I said it in my best street gang dialect.
“Well, I’ll keep you informed. If you hear anything let me know,” he said quietly.
I gave it a little thought then said, “Gypsy was running around on her husband near the end. I have no idea what she was doing but something. You might want to talk to a biker with some kind of repair shop out on the Dobson road. His name is Monk,” I said. I know I had said I wouldn’t volunteer anything but he seemed to be seriously looking for help at that point.
“How do you know all that?” Simpson asked.
“I asked a few questions in a club I know. That’s what I heard. It might mean nothing, or it might be something.”
Stick around just a few more minutes let me see where we are.” I nodded my agreement. “So Gypsy the ‘good mom’ according to her sister is out running around or doing something else to cause her to neglect her kid. Lots of people coming and going at her house and loud music. That is to cover some other noise maybe.”
“Or it was just loud party music. Maybe they were throwing parties but why would she be in the lounge trying to pick up men, if she was running a party house?” I asked myself out loud.
“What if he is doing something and she takes off to stay away from it. She goes to the lounge to spend the time till hubby tells her she can come home. The kid is on her own at home. Hopefully locked away from anything nasty,” I suggested. “She is just trying to get away from the evil bastard husband.”
“Only a complete idiot would buy that,” Simpson said.
“Or one member of the jury of her peers,” I said. “So how do we find out what was really going on.
“We searched that house completely, but we didn’t do a real search of the electronics in the house. They are still in the evidence locker.”
“You know I bet if you sent them to Agent Mission of the SBI, she could do something. They have more than enough people with electronics experience to take them apart back to the x and o-s,” I suggested.
“Well it’s a shot. So is just beating the truth out of her,” he said.
“Be careful where you say that. You are up to your ass in law suits.” I suggested.
“Don’t tell me the thought has never crossed your mind,” he said seriously.
“The idea has never crossed my mind, and chocolate ice cream has never crossed my lips,” I said then refused to discuss it again.
“You want to go with me to talk to Monk?” he asked.
“No it’s 3PM and I have given you enough of my time. I need to go back and rest before I go to bed. I have the day watch tomorrow.”
“Alright, but you were some help today. I want to thank you for that. If you hear anything let me know. We have to take this bitch down, so that she doesn’t take us down.”
“Bullshit Simpson we did nothing wrong. She might be able to fool a jury into giving her a break with that bullshit story, but no serious investigator is going to believe it.” I said it and hoped that it was true.
Back in my room I found about twenty five spam emails. All of them offering me bootleg copies of Steve McQueen movies. I didn’t respond to any of them but I might one day if I couldn’t find a movie I wanted to see online.
Since I hadn’t eaten any real food that day, I began thinking about dinner. Yes it was only 4PM but I still had dinner on my mind. I was flipping through the TV channels when I came across the reruns of an old artist reality contest show. One of the women looked a lot like me at that moment.
She was dressed in clothes from an army navy store. Best of all she was bald. She did have bigger and heavier looking breasts, which make her a lot more feminine looking. As someone said I had a rather butch, dyke look. When the woman turned to the camera I noticed something on her bald scalp. She had a very brightly multi colored butterfly tattoo. I liked it a lot, but knew that till I found an acceptable way to hide my shaved head, I did not dare to have a tattoo.