Slowly Charley opens one eyelid, knowing full well it was still the middle of the night. Blinking once, he focuses on the glowing red display glaring at him from the nightstand. “Only 2 A.M., thank God. I can still sleep for a couple more hours”. Looking more like a crime scene, he continues to lay motionless. Face down, completely stretched out with his arms neatly at his side. All that’s missing is the expected long bladed knife, shoved deep between his shoulder blades.
With hopes of returning to places only found within the cobwebs of his mind, he closes that one eye and waits for slumber to continue. The steady hum of the humidifier drowning out any possible background noise that might interrupt him.
Not surprisingly, Charley awakens to the touch of fine whisker hairs rubbing against his nose. “Cleo, it’s too early”. He knows she’s right, that damn cat is always right. More accurate than any mechanical alarm clock, Cleo’s persistent need to be fed precisely at 4 A.M. has signaled the start of his day for years.
Charley and Monica have opposite internal time clocks. She stays up late, watching Syfy programs and movies from decades ago. Charley, not able to sleep through the whole night, will often turn in hours earlier. This morning something’s different, there is no muffled snoring coming from Monica’s side of the bed.
Reaching across the sheets, an unexpected coolness greets Charley’s hand. Instead of warmth radiating from another person, there is nothing, Monica didn’t come to bed last night. “I suppose she fell asleep on the sofa again, she’s going to hate herself for that this morning”.
After his morning shaving ritual, Charley dresses from the cloths laid out on the chair in the hall. Ready for breakfast, he heads toward the front of the house. Strangely the flat screen alongside the fireplace is still on. Its been on all night, displaying the standard test pattern that indicates the station is off the air.
With no visible sign of his wife’s presence, Charley checks the kitchen. “Monica? Monica, are you in here”? Except for static emanating from the TV speakers, the house is empty. There is no reply to his repeated calls.
Glancing toward the back door, he discovers a broken pane. Splinters of glass, intermingled with traces of blood, litter the hallway leading outdoors. In a panic, Charley charges right through the possible crime scene out into the yard. In the dim receding shadows, created by the pool of light shining from the security light mounted high on the power pole, he sees deep footprints through the snow, leading to the barn.
In his hurry to find his wife, Charley misses the fact that the footprints are coming from the barn, not going to it. He grabs the simple galvanized latch securing the barn. Throwing the door open, he’s greeted with nothing but darkness and silence.
Winded, and hardly able to breath, he stops. Leaning against the door jam to catch his breath, he reaches out to support his body weight with his left arm. His knees begin to buckle, “Monica, Monica, where are you”!
Charley and Monica met in high school. They married shortly after graduation 10 years ago. It was a simple ceremony held under the hickory tree that forms the center piece of their now back yard. Back then the land was bare. 100 acres of open farm land with only that single tree indicating “this is where the house should be”. Right from the start they knew what they wanted from life. They were going to farm the land inherited from Charley’s great grandfather. Jerome O’Brian homesteaded the property, originally claiming it during the 1889 Oklahoma land runs.
Together they worked, side by side, building their small but comfortable home, plowing the fields, and harvesting the crops. It was a hard way of life, but that’s what it took to get established, when all they had was the dark red soil caked thick on the bottom of their boots.
Looking back toward the house, Charley realizes something’s missing in the front drive. Monica’s Ford Escape wasn’t there. He last saw it when he came back from picking up cattle feed yesterday afternoon. His dually truck was still where he left it, hooked to the gooseneck trailer alongside the barn. The little 4×4, Monica’s pride and joy, was nosed up against the garage door where it was more sheltered from the winds that howl across the open praire. With sunrise fast approaching, it was clear to see, the vehicle was gone.
Realizing he’d already destroyed valuable evidence in his haste, Charley’s panic turned to a more resolute worry. He needs to secure the property and call the authorities. Dialing 911 from the cell phone still in the cab of his truck, he fights back tears. “Hello, operator? My wife is gone, there’s blood and broken glass, come quick, I’ve got to find out what’s happened to her”! “Calm down Sir, help is on the way. When did you discover her missing”? Charley starts the diesel engine of his truck, to take the chill out of the air, as he pours out his heart into the phone. Not knowing what else he can do, he sits stoically behind the wheel, waiting for help to arrive.
Fifty miles away, a squad car pulls up in front of Sugar Ray’s BBQ Pit, the Kansas City police run the plates on one late model Ford Escape with Oklahoma tags. Suspiciously parked around back, long after the business closed for the night, it was reported to be unoccupied, and left with the engine idling and the lights on. Because the vehicle is littered with numerous empty BBQ containers, and a deep red sauce is splashed throughout the interior, the Investigative Crime Unit is called in. Using tongs supplied by the restaurant, the officers turn off the key, silencing the motor.
Officer Tootie examines the thick red liquid, “Muldoon, is this BBQ sauce, or blood”? With latex gloves protecting his finger, Muldoon dips his digit and takes a sample. “I don’t know for sure, but I’m not taking a taste it to find out”. Tootie takes out a roll of crime scene tape and sets up a perimeter, “Lets leave it for the boys downtown to figure out, isn’t there a donut shop down the street”? Muldoon wipes his finger clean, “Ya, I could use a hot coffee, this winter air cuts right through to the bone doesn’t it”? With lights flashing, they roll. Be it shift change, or coffee break, cops don’t like to be late.
Sheriff Andy pulls off the main highway, and turns up the long winding drive that runs under the arch marking the entrance to Charley’s simple ranch. With the sleeping donkey brand mounted at the highest point, the sign on the fence post declares this “The Lazy Ass Ranch”.
At the sight of approaching headlights, Charley closes the truck door, and crosses the yard to meet the officer. “Andy, she’s gone! Something’s wrong Andy, there’s bloody glass in the hall, they took her car, I don’t know what to do Andy, we’ve got to find her”!
Andy calmly walks from the squad to the front door. Noticing no sign of violence, he speaks with a distinct North Carolina drawl, “Ya know Charley, it’s powerful strange about Monica disappearing like this. Powerful strange”. “Say Charley, you-all gon-a compete in that there Texas style brisket smoking contest again this year”? Charley’s held the Grand Champion title for 4 years straight now, he’d be mighty proud to make it 5 years running. “You know I sure do miss Carolina vinegar based BBQ, but your Texas brisket is mighty good too”.
The pain of Monica’s disappearing seems to lift slightly, “Yep, I’m goin for 5 in a row, got the smoker all ready to go. I laid in a good supply of mesquite wood, hoping for a more savory bark this year”. ” I had that outfit west of Dallas build me a new cooker, been firing it up every weekend for months to get her seasoned real good. Hot spots on the grill would sure make a mess when low and slow gets the best results”.
Back at the police impound garage in Kansas City, the Investigative Crime Unit’s lead detective, Agent Booth, is shaking his head. “No blood, no trace evidence, just one messed up car. At least they spared no expense, this is no average BBQ sauce we’re dealing with here, this is Famous Larry’s finest Kansas City style sweet and tangy BBQ sauce”.
Officers Tootie and Muldoon’s radio squawks to life, “Car 54 proceed to the Sleazy Rest motel out by the interstate. See the complainant, reference a couple disturbing the peace in room 32. Reportedly possible drug and alcohol involvement, excessive noise and obscene behavior”.
Tootie flips the switch activating the lights and siren, Muldoon whips the steering wheel executing a perfect 180 degree bootlegger’s turn. In a cloud of dust they roar off to the scene of the crime.
Approaching the room with guns drawn, the dedicated officers sense trouble. There’s a deathly quiet, no noise, no movement, has everyone inside the room already been killed? Rather than risking any further fatalities or injuries Tootie and Muldoon call for backup. “Sarah, you better call out the Swat Team, this looks bad”.
In minutes the troops arrive, driving their heavily armored personnel carrier right up to the door of the ground level room. A flash, bang grenade shatters the window glass at the same instant a half dozen men in black, wearing bullet proof vests and armed with M16s smash through the cheap plywood door.
The scene they burst in on was unimaginable, there laying naked in a pool of crimson liquid, were the bodies of a man and woman. It appeared no mercy was shown by whoever carried out this heinous crime. Suddenly a low moan was heard from the pile of tangled flesh on the bed. Can it be, they’re not dead? Yes, they’re alive, it’s only a stupor brought on by gorging themselves with nothing but the finest.
There lay Monica, entwined in a romantic embrace. One arm wrapped behind the head of her partner in culinary crime, Famous Larry. Her other hand still clenching a fistful of naked Kansas City Baby Back Rib bones. Their bare bodies covered head to toe in thick, tangy sweet, Kansas City Style BBQ Sauce.
Monica had reached her breaking point, with 4 years of Texas brisket behind her, it was time to go Kansas City Style.