An Open and Shut Case

Layla Cranstern (Monte Dutton sketch)
Layla Cranstern (Monte Dutton sketch)

As husbands went, Layla could have done worse than Preston Cranstern. The sex was good. He was, by most accounts, competent at his job. He had some annoying facets to his personality. For instance, Preston had an absurd habit of insisting he was right when he obviously wasn’t. Once he had asked her to proofread a paper he’d written, and she pointed out that he had used the word “aisle” when he meant “isle.”

“No, no, you don’t understand,” he had said. “There are aisles laid out on the sand of the beaches there.”


As time went on, Preston annoyed her more and more.

By Monte Dutton
By Monte Dutton

She could have divorced him, but Layla didn’t look forward to having to explain that she was tired of her husband because of his misuse of the language. The simpler solution was for him to just die. It could happen. He was a policeman. He often took her with him to the shooting range. He thought it was something they could do together. Most of what he liked, he thought they could do together. She enjoyed the range because she was the better shot. It was just a matter of relaxing. He was too tense. She showed admirable restraint by not pointing this out. Preston would have just gotten defensive. That stubbornness was bound to get him killed.

Preston had an annoying habit that came from attending too many seminars. He had a handful of sayings that he trotted out with nauseating regularity. One was, “It’s not a problem. It’s an opportunity.”

Once Layla had walked into the den and informed him that the bathroom toilet was stopped up and running over. Predictably, he had said, “It’s not a problem. It’s an opportunity.”

“Well,” she told him, “call it what you want, but one of us is about to have the opportunity to clean up some shit.”

Preston didn’t even get it. He just smiled. He was stupid. On the other hand, he had been perfectly willing to let her clean up the bathroom while he watched the Warriors-Cavaliers game.

One weekend, they drove an hour to his parents’ farm so that he could observe Father’s Day. Boyd Cranstern was about to retire after three terms as sheriff of Lorne County. He was smarter than Preston, but Layla was smarter than Preston’s mother, Maggie. Her husband was a mama’s boy, which also annoyed Layla because it made so damn much sense.

The Cransterns owned a farm but didn’t do much with it. Once, Preston told her, they had owned about thirty head of cattle, but Boyd hadn’t had much time for raising them once Preston had moved away. Now that he was retiring, the Sheriff was thinking about restocking the place, but it would have to wait until the lease ran out. Some of the fellows at the Courthouse had been using the place to hunt and fish. Preston had wanted to go fishing. Layla didn’t have anything against fishing, but in their previous visits to the pond, neither of them had ever caught a bream more than about four inches long, and fishing for cats was too boring. She suggested they go on a nice, long hike.

Layla wore jeans and a tank top. Preston wore khaki cargo shorts and a tee shirt. The pastures were overgrown. It wouldn’t be long until it was time to bale hay. The Sheriff got a tidy check each summer from the hay a nearby farmer harvested. Preston apparently considered this something Layla needed to know. They ducked into a pathway through the woods and arrived at a gurgling creek, where they sat on the rocks at its edge, catching their breaths. Preston asked if she wanted to keep going. She said she didn’t care. She took off her shoes, rolled up her jeans, and waded into the water, where Preston pulled apart the strands of barbed wire — in a sagging fence that ran across the creek — so that she could climb through. She performed the same task for him. They put their shoes back on, followed the stream for a while, and then walked up a hill through woods that had thinned out and emerged into another, smaller meadow.

“We’re outside our property,” Preston said. “I don’t know who owns it now. When I was a kid, it belonged to two old maiden sisters, but they’ve been dead for at least ten years now. There’s an apartment complex now where their house used to be, up on the highway at the front of the property. We might even be in the city limits, but look. There’s not a sign of life — no houses, no power lines, not even a road that ain’t overgrown — in sight.”

“Do you think this is safe?”

“Aw, there ain’t a ‘no trespassing’ sign or nothin,'” he said.

It wouldn’t have mattered if there was, Layla thought. Police think they can go anywhere.

They’d come out of the woods on one side of the meadow. Layla dawdled and picked some wild blackberries, popping a handful of them into her mouth at once and enjoying the sweetness.

“Layla, come here,” Preston said.

She trotted up to where he was standing.

“Look a-yonder,” he said.

She peered into the shade, and squinted as her eyes adjusted.

“I b’lieve that’s a moonshine still,” he said.

That wasn’t all. Shortly they discovered it wasn’t weeds growing around the still, which was set up on the banks of the same creek they had recently waded. It was weed. Preston walked all through it, pulled some loose, smelled it. She just stood there watching him, a little anxious.

“Damn,” Preston said. “That’s a major bust waiting right there. I wish I was still on the force here. It’d be a big deal, finding this shit.”

“Don’t you think we need to get out of here?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I reckon we do.”

Two minutes less of Preston’s investigating, and they might have been home free, but when they walked back up to the meadow, two men were walking across it toward them. They didn’t look friendly. When they got closer, Layla could see they had pistols tucked into the fronts of their jeans. When they got closer, they pulled them.

“Whatta fuck joo be doin’ here?” one of them asked.

“Hold your horses. You need to know I’m a law officer, and my daddy’s the sheriff of this here county.”

Wrong answer, Preston. You fucking dumbass. Naturally, you’re unarmed.

Both men pulled their pistols and pointed them at Preston. They paid little attention to her.

Calm down. Be cool.

“Don’t listen to him,” Layla said, getting them to look away from her husband. “We won’t tell a soul. It’s none of our business. We don’t even live here. Here, I’ll give you some money.”

She slowly pulled the backpack off her shoulders.

“Fuck your money, bitch,” the larger one said.

“No,” she said. “I insist.”

What she pulled out, though, wasn’t her purse. It was her pistol. She shot one in the chest, and the other, little more than a boy, was so shocked his gun was still pointed at the ground when she shot him in the same place. Kill shots both.

Settle down. Remain calm. Layla walked over and squatted down over the bigger one to make sure he was dead.

“Damn,” Preston said. “You saved my life, Layla.”

She picked up the weed grower’s gun, sat hers on the ground. She rolled it in her hands and made sure it was loaded.

Preston was practically hyperventilating, but he hadn’t moved. He was still paralyzed in fright. Shaking.

“You’re something else, Layla. You just, cool as hell, killed both of them.”

She was still cool. She looked at her husband and raised the gun. One shot. It’s got to be one shot. She killed him with it. Didn’t risk a body wound. Shot him right in the head from ten yards. Then she got her backpack and found some wet naps she’d tucked away when she and some girlfriends had gone out for wings and beer. She carefully wiped the dead man’s pistol, dried it with a handkerchief, and wrapped his hands around it, careful not to let her own skin touch his. Layla let his arm drop naturally, and the gun just rolled out of his cold hands onto the ground.

In the middle of the meadow was an outcropping of trees that had grown around a mass of boulders that had poked up out of the ground sometime in antiquity. She sat on a rock and called ‘911’ on her cell, knowing her father-in-law the Sheriff would be the first on the scene because he was within two miles as the crow flies. He was too far away to have heard the shots, but someone might have.

The whole incident would have been a godsend had it been godly. Layla couldn’t have been more pleased with herself. She practiced staring off at a distant point, looking like she was in a trance. She didn’t have to bawl her eyes out. She could just be in shock for as long as it took. An old saying came to mind.

All things come to those who wait.



(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)

             I hope you enjoyed this tale. It might make you want to buy my new novel, Crazy of Natural Causes, which will be available for advance order on July 6 and for Kindle download on July 21. Meanwhile, my other books are available here:



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