A Matter of Public Welfare

On the television, Stephen Nilch wiped away a tear, black armband riding up his bicep. The news ticker ran:

GRIEVING FATHER’S SAFETY VICTORY/COUNTY TO IMPLEMENT CHANGES AFTER SIX-MONTH PUSH/SEVERE DENT IN JAYWALKING INCIDENTS EXPECTED

“They ever gonna let this go?”Keith asked. He had his feet up on his desk in the sheriff’s office, WORLD’S GREATEST GRANPA mug in one hand.

Stuart, fire marshal, was watching the crews out the window. “Slow news week, I guess. This ain’t Vegas.”

Half of San Andreas avenue was already parted by a chrome fence, now the crews in front of the station dug holes and filled them with cement.

“Who’s paying for this?”

“You are, natch.” Stuart let the blinds fall back into place. “Can’t say I’ll be sorry to see less crackheads cutting across traffic.”

“Crackheads? This is Holover Point. Where they getting crack, out by the cider press?”

Both men chuckled over a well-worn joke.

Keith heaved forward a little. He pointed with an index finger missing everything up to the first knuckle.

“Did they really survey this stretch of land before they put this into motion, or did bleeding hearts grease the way?”

“Not sure what you mean by that.”

“I mean, this might have some unintended consequences, is all. No disrespect to the boy.”

“No disrespect,” Stuart parroted.

“But I don’t think they thought this through.”

 

The accidents came before the fence even finished. Crossers impatient for the light were forced to jog along the fence until they spotted a gap, which was usually the center turn lane. This often ended poorly.

Worse were the mysterious hit-and-run reports that began happening in the dead hours of night. Drivers were breathalyzed and, more often than not, found sober. The unfortunate pedestrians were not found at all.

Public consensus held that the fences, while an admirable idea, were proving ineffective.

 

Stephen Nilch strode into the station. He was much taller than on television, though his grieving-yet-proud expression remained.

Keith said, “oh shit,” and extinguished his cigarette in his coffee.

Nilch nodded to him. “Sheriff.”

“Nilch,” Keith said cautiously.

“Some…indigent has dismantled a section of fence near Ponderosa court,” Nilch said crisply, “I would like to know what you’re going to do about it.”

“Well, hello to you too.” Keith forgot and took a drink. He made a wry face. “Look, we can’t be out there 24/7 protecting your pet project—”

“–the public interest,” Nilch interrupted, “is what you are here to protect, and that fence is part of it.”

“Why should a fence need protecting? And how the hell did they get that thing out of there, are some kids running around town with some bolt cutters and a chainfall?”

Nilch said “fix it,” and slammed the door behind himself.

 

Keith scratched his soul patch and surveyed the hole. It was quite a hole.

No signs of cutting, and the torn ends bent.

“Like something just ripped it out,” deputy Parrish said, probing an edge, “but there’s no torn foliage, no damage to the curb–”

“All right, CSI Glendale, I get your point,” Keith said, dusting off his hands, “this wasn’t a car hopping the curb and taking it out. So what the hell does that leave?”

Parrish found a swatch of rough brown hair on a wire point and gingerly maneuvered it into a sandwich bag.

Keith sighed.

“Maybe it was kids.”

 

Keith was tucking into a pastrami on rye when Stuart walked in. He was dressed in torn jeans in a t-shirt, all splattered with red mud.

“Good god, Stu. You been burying stiffs in the garden again?”

“Night class,” Stuart said sheepishly, taking a seat in one of the folding chairs, “I made you an ashtray.”

“Swell.” Keith napkined away a smear of mayo. “So what brings you to this neck of the woods?”

“I had a thought the other day. Also, I just nearly missed running over someone.”

“Yikes. Well, who should I put out an APB on?”

“Seven feet tall, indistinct features, disappears into thin air when you try to follow him. Ring any bells?”

Keith looked across the desk. His sandwich flopped forgotten onto the plate. “You are shitting me.”

“It all adds up.”

“No it don’t. That’s like saying five and three make seven.”

“But in algebra—”

“Listen, shut up for a second.”

Both men looked out the window.

A car, which had been presumably traveling down the road until recently, was skewed diagonally across the lawn of the funeral parlor opposite the station. When Stephen Nilch exited the car holding his neck, both men groaned audibly.

 

“You, officer.” Stephen pointed his finger like a sword, “I have an incident report to make.”

“For god’s sake, Nilch, don’t talk. And quit moving your head.” Stuart moved to cup his skull.

Keith whistled at the dent in the front of Nilch’ station wagon. “That’s some corn.”

“Are you joking? I just nearly died.”

“You just hit someone with your car,” Keith said, “do I really need to remind you where the law’s sympathies lie here?”

Nilch clammed up sullenly.

“Where’s the body?”

“That’s just it,” Nilch said bewilderedly, “I got out of the car to check—”

“And he disappeared,” the other two men said in unison.

Nilch looked from one to the other.

“Do you want to tell him, or should I?” Stuart asked.

“I’ll go, he hates me already.” Keith gestured to the road. “Nilch, there’s something about this road. The fence was a bad idea.”

“Not that it was a terrible idea,” Stuart cut in, “it might even be good, somewhere else.”

“But it just so happens that right here, it cuts across the migratory path of the Yeti.”

Nilch said, “What.”

“The Yeti. The Sasquatch. Bigfoot, skunk ape, Gigantanthropus crypticus, call it what you will. These suckers chose right where we’re standing to migrate.”

“Get the fuck out,” Nilch said.

“Look, hear the man out,” Stuart urged.

“Shut up, Jimenez.” Nilch jabbed his finger at Keith’s jugular. “You. You have no call to mock me like this. My son is dead—”

“Look, no one’s saying it’s not tragic,” Keith said, “whether or not it would’ve happened if you’d taught him not to run across the street in the first place.”

Nilch made a strained noise.

“But the fact is that this fence is preventing the yeti from moving pastures.”

“This is ridiculous.”

“Well, look at it from their perspective,” Stuart said, “they’re gentle creatures, not used to this modern world. It’s sad. One century they walk across a dirt path from one field to another, the next they get run over by a glowing-eyed monster screaming out of the dark, leaving behind only a crumpled skin that may have belong to a gorilla and their rank stench. Sad state of affairs for such a majestic and idiosyncratic animal.”

“You people are insane,” Nilch said, stepping back.

“You’re in denial. What the hell do you think keeps this town afloat? The mill? The postcard sales alone paid for the repaving of main street. Look—” Keith put a hand up. “Leaving all that, the fence hasn’t done much in the way of good. People still try to cross the damn street at midway.”

“No, no, no,” Nilch interrupted, “you don’t get to talk to me about yetis and then suddenly pull back. I’ll have your jobs. Both your jobs.”

“Well,” Stuart said, “if that’s the way you feel.”

Both men watched as Nilch got back in his car and gunned it. The motor turned over with a heavy cough and the car laboriously backed off the sidewalk. Both men waved.

Nilch made a three-point turn, steering with one hand while he shot them the bird with his other. He set the car straight and accelerated. The headlights illuminated a figure standing in the middle of the road. Every hair seemed to absorb the light, the eyes refracted back the headlights in deep red. The car swerved, jumping the curve with one tire and tearing a chunk out of the fence. The horn blared. The figure stalked back to the edge of the road and disappeared into the shadows.

“Majestic creatures,” Stuart said, “they’ve got a natural curiosity. Sadly, that doesn’t come bundled with natural caution.”

“I ever tell you the time my daddy shot one?” Keith asked. Stuart shook his head. “worst meat I ever had. Didn’t melt in your mouth, it disintegrated. Stunk up the deep freeze so bad we had to get a new one.”

Both men looked to the car. Nilch’s head lay against the steering wheel. Keith sighed.

“You fish him out, I’ll get the kit.”

The office smelled like a dead skunk when he opened the door. The sandwich was gone from the plate.

Keith shook his head and grabbed his emergency kit. “Worse than the Jackelopes.”

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