Our next guest on the Crime Cafe podcast is Jeremy Scott, the co-creator & narrator of CinemaSins, a YouTube channel dedicated to movie-related comedy.

And, speaking of books and movies, which do you do first? Read the book or see the movie? 🙂

Great use of split-screen!

And he is a crime writer, as well. He’s giving away a signed copy of his first novel, When the Corn is Waist High.

Check out the giveaway details after the excerpt from the book.

When the Corn is Waist High
By Jeremy Scott

Chapter 1: The Lily

My third murder was my first.

I had two prior, of course, but officials hadn’t recognized them as homicides at the time, and so they’d been classified merely as deaths. It would be a while before anyone realized those first two were actually also intentional murders and not just accidental.

Anyway, I’d had six deaths during my time as sheriff of Crooked Creek, Indiana. That was over about eight years. But I’d never had a murder until now—again, not counting the two prior that weren’t currently considered homici—you know, I’ve probably explained this enough already. Let’s carry on.

Tina Hillary was dead, there were no two ways about it. She looked dead, she smelled dead. She was fucking dead. She’d been found by her landlord, face-up on her kitchen floor. He usually checked on her once a day, and when he got no response all evening he got worried and let himself in to find her expired.

Mrs. Hillary had been 84 years old, and lived alone. Ordinarily, her death would have been ruled one of natural causes—we might not even have ordered an autopsy. Autopsies are rarer in rural Indiana than in the big cities. And Jerusalem County only had one medical examiner, and he lived all the way over in Perrington, 30 miles away.
Ordinarily, as I say, we had to find some significant question or mystery surrounding a death before we could order an autopsy. An old woman dead on the floor? Wouldn’t have qualified. Had it not been for the white lily, whose stem had been literally sewn into Mrs. Hillary’s arm, the flower itself cradled gently in her left hand.

“That’s something,” I said in my typical half-drawl. Hoosiers—those folks who live in Indiana—speak a very unique blend of southern drawl and Minnesotan. I’d lived in-state for 15 years and had finally slipped into the natural accent myself.

“That’s why I called you.” Deputy Skip Holmes was the youngest member of our police force. He was regularly teased for being green, as well as for having the same last name as a famous fictional detective while simultaneously being mostly a goof. But he was a good kid. A bit talkative. Local boy. Went to college, then the academy, barely graduated, and then came home to enforce the law.

As the lowest member of the totem pole, he was on call for the night shift.

I’d been wrist deep in a plate of Indiana nachos when Skip called, but I’d pretended to be asleep. I guess I was embarrassed to be a such a junk-food-loving night owl. And a deputy that thinks I’m sleepy and cranky might be quieter and allow me to think.

Even now on the scene, I yawned to keep up the ruse. “Hmm.” I stared at the corpse, thinking.

“You think we ought to call the mortician guy? Dobbins?”

I said nothing, still taking in the scene.

Skip continued. “I don’t feel like this here can be considered natural causes, you know what I mean?” He strung words together like Gomer Pyle, but the actual sound of his voice was deep and clipped. Like a lawyer on a television show.

“The death may yet prove to be accidental,” I said, more to myself than in reply to Skip, “But that lily did not get there through any natural causes.” I knelt down to take a closer look, knowing it would soon cost me whatever remained of my nacho dinner that still resided in my stomach.

“You think she just… she just… died?” Skip wore his heart on his sleeve, and said most every thought that ran through his head, apparently even if he thought I was tired and cranky. “And then someone came along, found her, and did this here with the flower and shit?”

I stood up, sensing a possible teaching moment. “No, Deputy Holmes. What I’m saying is… don’t make assumptions. Regular folk—the car salesman at Sandsman Chevy, the cashier at Clemmon’s Grocery, the gas station attendant—they can afford to make assumptions. Hell, some of them get by in this life solely through assumptions.”

“But you and me. Dobbins the medical examiner, the country sheriff, the docs at the hospital… we can’t afford to make assumptions. All we know is that she is dead, and someone… did some disgusting shit with a flower and her arm. For now… that’s all we know.” I tapped the camera he was holding with my pen. “How about taking some pictures while I continue investigating the crime scene?”

Cops in a small town do more than one job. Tonight, Deputy Holmes was both a police officer, and a crime scene photographer.

We only had five people on the payroll at the Crooked Creek police department: myself, the sheriff; three deputies; and Maggie, the office manager/receptionist/CFO.

So upon finding Mrs. Hillary’s body, the landlord called 911, and the call routed to the county dispatch, who then called Maggie and woke her up, and she called Skip to go to the scene. We didn’t usually have an officer on-duty overnights; just one on call.

Crooked Creek only had a couple thousand citizens, so our police force was actually pretty large when compared to other small towns in the Midwest. Usually you figure a farm town usually has about 1 officer per thousand citizens, so we were fortunate. The local Chamber of Commerce functioned as a shadow city council, and kept plenty of funding funneled to law enforcement. It had been this way for at least nine or ten years, ever since the Lindy girl went missing in 1978. The folks in Crooked Creek with money seemed intent on preventing any repeat incidents.

Snap. Snap.

Skip took pictures on the police force’s Polaroid while I looked for clues.

I didn’t consider myself much of a detective. I didn’t consider myself much of a police officer, actually. Hell, I’d only run for mayor eight years ago because the church board seemed so interested in it. All three of my deputies had gone to police academy, but I never went. Something a lot of you forget, especially in small towns: sheriffs are politicians, not cops.

I wasn’t sure how to look for clues. The last two deaths in this town had been ruled accidental or natural causes, so I hadn’t had to investigate much at all. I began looking for fingerprints on windows and shiny surfaces, only to immediately realize neither I nor Skip had gloves on.

“Oh, shit!” I yelled.

“What?”

“Gloves! Gloves! Put the camera down. What did you touch?! What did I touch?! Never mind, let’s go to my truck, I have gloves. We need gloves.”

“Shit, sheriff. I touched a bunch of stuff,” he called running after me.

I felt so amateur. Because I was. Most of the crime I dealt with here was small stuff. Domestic disputes, petty theft, the occasional pot bust, some light vandalism. Murder was something I was wholly unprepared for.
But even though I didn’t know what I was doing, gloves should have been obvious, even for a high schooler.
I grumbled unintelligibly to myself as Skip and I tugged the latex gloves on one at a time. How many fingerprints had we already left in this place? Jesus.

As we walked back through the threshold of the front door, a familiar and unwelcome sound rang through the air. It was the muffler-free environment-hating gas guzzler of one Harold McKee, owner and sole reporter for the local paper, the Crooked Creek Peek—circulation 300.

“Goddammit,” I breathed.

“How does he even find out about this stuff?” Skip asked.

“He lives across the street from me,” I said for the sixth or seventh time.

“So he’s stalking you? That’s creepy, sir,” he barked.

“It’s not stalking if you can look out your living room window and see it.” I wondered what the academy was teaching these days to crank out someone as dumb as Skip. He was well-meaning, and honest, but dumb. I put a hand on Skip’s shoulder. “Stall him for me, son. I’ll finish the pictures and evidence collection. Remember, this is a crime scene—he has no journalistic right to enter this house, and you arrest him if he tries.

“Yes, sir.”

I walked back inside and stood in the small foyer, sweeping my gaze over the living room where the body lie.
“What kind of monster would do this?” I said aloud to myself. “Who would even think of doing this, let alone go through with it?” I had no answers in the moment.

I began to dart my eyes around.

“Where are the clues? Surely there’s something left behind that’s incriminating.” I looked at the bookshelf, then the piano, then the couch. I didn’t see any of the telltale signs of struggle, although my knowledge of the telltale signs of a struggle came entirely from episodes of Perry Mason and Murder She Wrote. “What am I missing right now?” I pleaded with myself.

I wished for all my might in that moment to be a better cop, a better detective. To find the clues that had surely been left behind.

But I was looking at the crime scene like any lay-person would. It was maybe the first time I felt unprepared to do my job. I did know one thing I needed to do for certain.

I took out my handkerchief and picked up Mrs. Hillary’s phone and called my boss, the mayor of Crooked Creek, the right honorable asswipe, Sean Burke.

He answered on the third ring, as he always did. “What?” Mayor Burke had a way of always sounding annoyed. I’m sure even his orgasms sounded annoyed, if he ever had them.

“Mister Mayor, sir,” I said, respectfully. “It’s the sheriff here. I’ve got one hell of a fucking corpse on my hands.”
Three minutes later, after another lecture about my unprofessional phone demeanor, Burke agreed to get Dobbins, the medical examiner, to Crooked Creek by morning for a full autopsy. He also planned to call the county sheriff, Craig McNewel.

“County’s got no jurisdiction in city limits,” I whined.

“He’s got ten times the experience you have and another pair of eyes won’t hurt,” the mayor shot back. It was a conversation we’d had several times, or anytime he felt I was in over my head. It didn’t help that he had backed my opponent for sheriff.

Mayor Burke was on his 10th 4-year term. Early on, the township didn’t have term limits in place, so he just kept running and, because nothing much ever changes in corn country, he kept winning. When the hippies in the late ‘60s managed to get term limits on the books, well Burke ran and won the legally-allowed two more times. Then, on his way out, convinced the board of alderman to strip the mayor’s office of power, giving the authority to a newly-created City Manager position. The City Manager would be chosen by the board of alderman, not the general electorate, who would continue to vote for a mayoral office that no longer held any real power.
Then the board appointed Burke as City Manager. It was the best end-around I’d ever heard of outside of some Barry Sanders highlights.

Everyone in town knew what had occurred, and no one really cared. They kept calling Burke “Mayor” even though that wasn’t technically his title anymore. And the actual mayor, voted for but powerless, was largely anonymous to the general public, as he only showed up for ribbon cuttings and other ceremonial meaningless events.

Burke had been “mayor” of this town longer than I had even been alive.

His phone sign-off tonight was “Goddammit.” And then he hung up. Like it was my fault I had a weird murder in my town.

Harold McKee appeared just outside the front door, with Skip making an X of his arms and legs in the doorway as a kind of human blockade. I was beginning to lose faith in deputy Holmes’ ability to keep the press at bay.

“What are you hiding sheriff?! What’s the big secret?!” Harold said the same things every time I saw him, always seeking evidence of a conspiracy of some kind. Only this time, I finally had something I didn’t want him to see or photograph, but it was already too late.

“Holy…” Harold trailed off as he took in the visuals of the living room, the dead body, and the threaded lily stem. As he raised his camera up to take a photograph, Deputy Holmes earned his first gold star AND his first demerit by kicking the news photographer squarely in the crotch—leading to a lawsuit that, last I heard, the city of Crooked Creek was still fighting in appellate courts.

“Cuff him and put him in the back of your squad car,” I ordered Deputy Holmes. “We’ll charge him with interfering in an investigation.”

“He’s gonna fight it in court, Sheriff,” Skip reminded me. We’d arrested Harold a half-dozen times over the years, usually for trespassing or otherwise being a nuisance to us and his fellow citizens in the pursuit of some kind of juicy police gossip or hot news story. He always sued us afterwards, and he always won in court, because the city judge was a 90-year-old by-the-book rule keeper that thought the freedom of the press was the most precious of rights, and the county judge was an illiterate boob.

“Skip, please!” I shouted. I didn’t care if the charges stuck. I just wanted that paparazzo out of here for a few minutes.

“You got it, sir,” he relented.

Needless to say, Harold and his journalistic curiosity were now out of commission long enough for me to do a comprehensive search of the scene.

Skip and I covered the body with a blanket we found in a nearby closet, hoping that would keep her identity private if any other amateur news photographers dropped by, and for basic human decency reasons. There were next of kin to notify, a job I would normally give to whatever underling was standing next to me. But tonight, it was only Skip and myself. And I figured he’d probably already been through enough.

So I made another call, this time to Mrs. Hillary’s son, Greg. He lived in California, so he was thankfully still awake.

“What do I need to do?” He asked.

“Well,” I replied, “I would contact a funeral home here in Crooked Creek—there are two of them—and make funeral arrangements. If I were you.” I paused. “Unless you want to have her interred somewhere else, or out there in California, in which case you will still need to call the Jerusalem County morgue tomorrow to make arrangements.” I paused again. “I’m terribly sorry, sir.”

For a while I heard nothing but breathing, as he processed all the new information, and then finally he sighed. “Okay,” he said. And then he hung up.

I hadn’t told the son everything. I hadn’t told him about the lily, or the way it had been incorporated into the scene. As I hung up, I realized he would eventually find out anyway. I hoped he would believe I had done him a kindness by not overwhelming him right after the bad news. I hoped he wouldn’t be upset at the momentary omission.

There was only one hospital in the county, about 15 miles away in Del Plains. But we had an ambulance here locally in town, at the fire department. It wasn’t required by law like it was in some states, but we paid extra to train all our paid and volunteer fireman in Crooked Creek to also be EMTs.

The ambulance arrived and I saw Terry and John climb out and start wheeling in a gurney. Terry was the fire chief, and happened to be on duty tonight. John, Terry’s son, was a new addition to the crew. I noticed John was carrying a body bag.

“Terry, John,” I acknowledged as they entered the home.

They both nodded in return. Our firefighters rarely had to fight actual fires, and even most of their EMT calls ended happily. This was a somber night for them, with only the flat, dull drive to Del Plains ahead of them, which wouldn’t cheer anyone up.

“You get all the pictures you need?” Terry asked.

“Yeah. And I’ve taped the outline of the body. Just try not to touch anything else,” I replied.

I watched them load her lifeless body into the cold, black bag and zip her up. I’d seen her just last week at church. She’d been so spritely and full of vinegar. I took a quick moment to say a prayer for Tina Hillary, wishing her soul safe passage to heaven. Then I turned off the lights, locked all the doors, and strung police tape across the threshold.

I made a mental note to order more yellow crime scene tape, since the roll was getting low after cordoning off this house. It was the same roll we’d been using ever since I took the job eight years ago.

I gave Skip instructions on how to handle Harold back at lock-up tonight, and tomorrow when he would inevitably want to have his receptionist girlfriend, Lydia, post bail. Deputy Kent would be showing up in the morning and would need a debrief. Skip seemed to have a handle on it, so I said goodnight, and I drove home.

I poured a glass of scotch, put some food out for Zacchaeus, my cat that didn’t even appear to notice I had been gone for hours, and sat down in the living room, staring at my own reflection in the television set. I didn’t like what I saw.

“What. The hell. Are you going to do?” I asked myself out loud.

I downed the scotch, and threw the glass and ice at the wall above the TV. It shattered, obviously, and now I wasn’t sure what was glass or what was ice.

“Crap!” I yelled into the air, before deciding to just forget everything and fall asleep drunk right there on the couch. Whatever didn’t melt while I slept was glass, and I’d sweep it up in the morning.

I was asleep in two minutes.

My name is Father Solomon Lancaster. I’m a prophet of the messiah, a preacher of the Word of God, priest at Jerusalem Independent Catholic Church, and sheriff of Crooked Creek township.

And I’m in way over my head.

*****

“Thank you for reading the first chapter of When the Corn is Waist High. I hope you enjoyed it. I’m giving away a signed copy to one of you lovely readers and all you have to do to enter is to email me at jeremy@cinemasins.com with the subject line “CORN BOOK CONTEST”. In the body of the email, maybe just tell me your favorite book or something. Anyway, I’ll pick a winner at random and send them a signed copy of When the Corn is Waist High!”

*****

Jeremy Scott is a writer and entertainer from Nashville, TN. He is the co-creator & narrator of CinemaSins, a YouTube channel dedicated to movie-related comedy with over 9 million subscribers, and the author of The Ables series, Original Sin: From Preacher’s Kid to the Creation of CinemaSins, and When the Corn is Waist High. A former online marketing consultant, Jeremy spends his time cohosting a popular film podcast, playing and listening to music, and being lousy at golf. He lives just outside Nashville with his incredibly understanding wife and their furry cats.

 

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