These Mortal Remains

A Mystery

Texas Mysteries

Milton T. Burton

Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books

No one ever understood their reasons for picking the Royal. It had a brisk trade, but there were other places nearby that would have been more lucrative. Whatever their logic, it was a very unwise move on their part. According to witnesses, they burst through the door a little after seven-thirty that morning, wild-eyed and with their pistols already in hand.
“On the floor, assholes!” Topper Smith yelled.
Customers and staff alike stared at him without comprehension.
“Goddamn, am I going to have to kill somebody for you morons to figure it out? This is a robbery, so get moving!”
That got people’s attention. Everybody quickly hit the deck except an elderly man named Dual Driggers who sat in the second booth back from the cash register.
“I said get down!” Topper bellowed.
“Piss on you, punk,” Dual said. “I got arthritis, and I ain’t getting on no damn floor.”
Both bandits gaped at Dual in amazement. What they saw was a skinny, shriveled-up old geezer with bright eyes and a face that made people think of biting into persimmons. This was the first time they’d encountered resistance, and they were baffled by it. Things were at an impasse. Dean Bean apparently thought he could get the situation unstuck by firing into the ceiling three times. The little German-made .32 caliber pistol was loud in the confined space of the diner, but it wasn’t nearly as loud as the .45 Colt automatic that materialized in Dual’s right hand a moment later.
“Where the hell did that thing come from?” Bean asked, ogling the heavy gun with his speed-crazed eyes. He was never to learn the answer to his question. The autopsy would reveal that Dual’s bullet hit him squarely in the heart and ripped it to shreds, thereby proving that Mean Dean Bean wasn’t really so mean after all.
“Holy shit!” Topper Smith said as he stared down at his now defunct buddy. He looked up at Dual, and when he spoke his voice was full of childish petulance. “What did you do that for, you old son of a bitch?”
Instead of answering, Dual gave him a smile the waitress later said reminded her of something out of Tales from the Crypt and squeezed the trigger a second time.
This bullet missed its mark by a few inches, which was forgivable since Dual was eighty-four years old with fading eyesight. Instead of hitting the center of Topper’s chest, it went through his right lung and severed a fair-sized artery. A moment later a very confused Topper dropped to the floor, his eyes beginning to glaze with shock.
The diner was dead quiet for a few seconds except for a mild gurgling sound coming from the hole in the robber’s chest. Dual rose ponderously to his feet and hobbled over to where the young hoodlum lay. Topper looked up at the old man and raised his .38 snub-nose and tried to pull the trigger. Dual made two attempts to kick the gun out of the punk’s hand and missed both times, almost falling on the second try. “Aw, screw it,” he said, and put a bullet right between Topper’s eyebrows.
A 230-grain Norma hollow-point at point-blank range has approximately the same effect on a human cranium that a cherry bomb has on a watermelon, which made the end of Topper’s short and remarkably unproductive life an extremely messy affair. Not that Dual gave a damn.
Patrons and employees both began to slowly get to their feet. The cook peeped over the counter, then stood. Everybody except Dual looked dazed. “Call the sheriff,” he said.
“Huh?” the counterman asked.
“Call the sheriff, fool!” Dual yelled impatiently.
As the man reached for the phone and began dialing, a nice-looking young college girl walked up beside Dual, peered down at the remnants of Topper’s head, and clapped her hand to her mouth.
“I’ve seen lots worse than this,” Dual said. “You ought to been at Omaha Beach.”
The girl stared at him for a moment in horror and then bolted through the front door. A few seconds later retching sounds came from outside the building. Dual shrugged, then announced to no one in particular, “I think I’ll finish my breakfast before the cops get here.”
Slipping his pistol into the waistband of his pants, he hobbled back over to his table. The waitress stood gaping at the old man, her eyes enormous. Dual gave her another gruesome smile and said, “Honey, if you don’t mind, bring me a couple more of them sausages.”
*   *   *
My name is Beauregard “Bo” Handel, and I’ve been sheriff of Caddo County in central East Texas for almost three decades. Early one Friday morning last November, two Houston meth heads known on the street as Topper Smith and Mean Dean Bean tried to rob the Royal Coffee Shop, a new joint just beyond the city limit on the south side of Sequoya, our county seat. Subsequent investigation revealed that the Royal was only the latest stop in a crime spree that began two days earlier when the pair decided to knock over two liquor stores and a neighborhood grocery in the same evening. I use the word “decided” loosely because meth freaks don’t really decide anything. In their world, action proceeds from impulse without any intervention by the frontal lobes, which are usually too fried to be of use, anyway.
The three jobs that inaugurated their odyssey brought them a combined take of something over five thousand dollars, a sum that was probably more money than either had ever seen at any one time in their lives. For reasons known only to themselves, they decided to abandon Houston that same night. After stocking up on crystal, they stole a car and headed northward into East Texas. Before they landed in Caddo County, they robbed seven more business establishments and killed two people. Their victims were an elderly lady buying cat food at a mom-and-pop store near Woodville and a Korean immigrant who owned a video rental business in Lufkin. Witnesses said both were murdered for no apparent reason.
Soon after each robbery the pair ditched their getaway vehicle and stole another, no doubt seeing this strategy as the key to a successful criminal career. What they didn’t know was that the car they were currently driving was on a quad-state felony alert hot sheet, and that a deputy constable in the middle of a drunk driving arrest had spotted it fifteen miles back down the road and radioed the highway patrol.
It was all over long before I received word in the form of a phone call, which was picked up by my chief deputy, Toby Parsons.
Here’s how it played out in the aftermath of Dual Drigger’s run-in with Topper Smith and Mean Dean Bean.

Copyright © 2013 by Milton T. Burton