The sun burned hot in the sky when the sheriff and his deputies rode up to the pastor’s house looking for the stranger who lived there. There were no visible signs that anyone was there, but the sheriff had a hunch that he would find who he was looking for inside the house. He didn’t need a warrant, it was eighteen seventy five.
The sheriff dismounted from his horse and led his three deputies to the front porch. He didn’t think knocking would be a good idea since he didn’t want the strangers trying to escape or shooting at them. He told one of the deputies to go to the back of the house and watch to make sure the stranger didn’t escape. Giving him ample time to get around to the rear, the sheriff opened the front door and led the remaining two deputies inside.
What the found was a pine wood coffin setting on the floor in the main room with the lid on.
“What the fuck?” Deputy Diller asked. “Why is there a pinewood box in the house?”
“He’s a preacher, he does funerals, maybe it has something to do with that,” Deputy Davis replied.
“The mortician takes care of the bodies, he has all the coffins down at the mortuary. This isn’t right,” Deputy Diller said.
The sheriff moved in closer and took a long look at the lid. He pulled his pistol and aimed it at the center. “Take off the lid,” he said to Deputy Diller who was standing closest to the coffin.
“What do you think is in there?” Deputy Diller asked.
“Not what, who,” the sheriff replied.
Deputy Diller bent over and gave the lid a little shove to make sure it wasn’t nailed down anywhere. It gave so he knew the lid was just resting on top. He looked up at the sheriff and then back down at the lid and pushed it until it slid off onto the floor. To everyone’s shock, the stranger lie inside the coffin with his eyes closed. He didn’t look dead, and it didn’t take long to see that he was breathing. Removing the lid didn’t wake him and seemed to annoy him a bit as he readjusted to turn from the dim light streaming through the window.
“What’s he doing?” Deputy Diller asked.
“Sleeping from what I can tell,” the sheriff replied. “Wake him.”
Deputy Diller reached over to the stranger and pushed him trying to wake him. With each push the man in the coffin became more and more agitated. Then he woke up in a groggy state covering his eyes from the glare from the window. It took a few moments for him to gain his bearings, but when he did, he was shocked to find law enforcement in the room looking at him from above.
“What’s going on?” Bohdan asked.
“Is your name Bohdan Malko?” the sheriff asked.
“Yes, why did you interrupt my sleep?”
“I have information that you murdered Jane Henry and Pastor Brett Adkins last night at the church and left their bodies for me to find.”
“What makes you think I killed them?” Bohdan asked.
“I found a letter on the pastor’s desk. It said if anything ever happened to him, that it would be you that did it,” the sheriff replied.
“That mother fucker,” Bohdan said. He was very disappointed that he didn’t search the pastor’s office before he left the church and now he was busted.
“Did you kill them?” the sheriff asked.
“Of course not,” Bohdan replied. He was now sitting up in the coffin and was getting adjusted to the dim light filling the room. He squinted as if the light was a pain to him.
“What’s wrong with you? Why are you sleeping in a coffin in the middle of the day?”
“I have a sensitivity to light, I can only leave the house at night unless I’m covered from head to toe,” Bohdan replied. “I can’t explain it, my mother had it as well,” Bohdan lied to the sheriff.
“Why a coffin?”
“The light can’t get in, I can’t sleep if there is any light at all.”
“I need to take you down to the jail, I hope that won’t be a problem,” the sheriff said. He was being sardonic, he didn’t care if it hurt Bohdan or not.
“Give me a few minutes to get ready,” Bohdan said as he got out of the coffin. By now Deputy Smith heard the conversation from where he was standing at the back of the house and joined the rest inside.
“Once he gets ready, tie a rope from his hands to a horse. And toss a blanket over his head so he doesn’t get sunburned.”
Bohdan put out his hands and Deputy Diller tied them with a rope he brought in from outside. He then tossed a blanket over Bohdan’s head and led him outside where he attached the rope to the harness of his horse. From there, the posse slowly led Bohdan down the street to the jail as he trailed behind the horses being led by the rope. Town’s people watched in curiosity as the stranger walked behind the four horses with a blanket over his head. Nobody had ever seen anything like that before. Was it because they were hiding something?
At the jail, the sheriff pulled off the blanket and locked Bohdan in a cell. The light shining through the barred window cast a rectangle on the wall that lit up the room. Bohdan squinted and covered his eyes with his hand. “Can you give me the blanket? I need to cover the window.”
“It really hurts that bad?” Deputy Davis asked.
“Yes, the light is very painful,” Bohdan replied.
Deputy Davis pushed the blanket through the bars of the cell and dropped it on the wood floor. Bohdan quickly picked up the blanket and draped it over his head leaving a small area to see and speak through.
“Can you put something in the window to block the light as well?” Bohdan asked.
“Use the blanket,” Deputy Davis replied.
“I can’t get that close to the light, it will burn me.”
“Wait till it gets dark,” the deputy replied.
Bohdan moved to the darkest corner of the cell and sat with his blanket covering him as best he could. It was a little past noon and the sun was bright in the clear sky that day. It would be a long while till sundown when he could plug up the hole in his cell.
The sheriff pulled up a chair and sat down with a pad of paper and a pen. He looked at Bohdan like he was a circus freak. “I have some questions I need you to answer,” the sheriff said.
“Ask what you want sheriff,” Bohdan replied. His eyes were closed and shaded by the blanket.
“Where are you from?” the sheriff asked.
“I was born and raised in Texas.”
“What are you doing here in Kansas?”
“Looking for work,” Bohdan replied.
“What kind of work?”
“How long have you been in town?”
“About three weeks.”
“And how did you meet the pastor?” the sheriff asked.
“I came to his church looking for help.”
“Is that why you were living with him?”
“Did you meet his wife?”
“You know she’s dead as well.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Do you have any idea how she died?” The sheriff asked.
“Why would I know? What are you getting at? Are you accusing me of killing her?”
“Since you’ve shown up, four people have died. A prostitute named Maria, Jane Henry, the pastor and his wife, and you happened to be living in the pastor’s house sleeping in a pine box coffin. Explain that.”
“I have no explanation,” Bohdan replied.
“I bet you don’t,” the sheriff replied. “
“Do you have any evidence, besides the letter from the pastor that I did anything wrong?”
“No, but that letter points the finger at you and you are my only suspect.”
“Have you even tried to look at anyone else? Or are you being lazy,” Bohdan said.
“Fuck you asshole,” the sheriff replied. “I don’t answer to you, you answer to me. As far as I’m concerned, I’d rather string you up right now than ask any more questions. It’s pretty obvious that you killed these people. I’m just going through the motions till the judge shows up to kill you off legal.”
“When will the judge be here?” Bohdan asked.
“He’s due in three weeks, you’ll be sitting in jail until then.”
“Three weeks?” Bohdan asked out loud. He knew he’d probably starve to death without fresh blood before the judge came to town.
“Is that a problem for you?” the sheriff asked sardonically. He didn’t give a shit.
“No, that’s not a problem at all,” Bohdan replied.
“Maybe by then you’ll have decided to confess.”
“I don’t think so, I have nothing to confess too,” Bohdan replied.
“I’d think about that really hard if I were you, if you confess, they might go easy on you.”
“Why would anyone go easy on me? You’ve already convicted me as far as I can tell.”
“Because Jane Henry is the sister of one of my deputies, and if you pretend to be innocent, it will just piss him off more. If you fess up and ask for forgiveness, you might live to see your trial.”
“Which deputy is that?” Bohdan asked.
“Smith,” Bohdan replied. “Henry was her married name.”
“And you want me to confess to Deputy Smith so he won’t kill me in my cell while I sleep.”
“I can’t be here all the time to protect you.”
“So you’re no better than a thug.”
“You’re no better than a killer,” the sheriff replied.
“If you can’t grant me basic protection from your own deputy, you should house me somewhere else.”
“Where?” the sheriff asked.
“Where is the nearest town with a jail?”
“Salina would be the closest, but I’m not sending you there. This is an Abilene issue and we will take care of you here.”
“Fine, do as you wish, you have me locked up like an animal, and now I won’t live to see my trial. I’ve seen worse during the war, far worse. I should have died many times and survived. I’ve been a prisoner of war, and I’m still here.”
“There is a big difference between a prisoner of war and a murderer who kills innocent women and butchers their bodies to be picked over by vultures. You’ll have plenty of time to think over the next three weeks, if you survive that long. Until then, remember, Deputy Smith has access to the jail keys and I’m not here most of the day. He takes turns sleeping overnights when we have prisoners and you two will be alone.”
“If he touches me, everyone will know who did it,” Bohdan replied.
“You ever hear of jailhouse suicides? When they find the prisoner hanging from the rafters? Happens all the time.”
“I bet it does, you’re no better than a criminal yourself,” Bohdan replied.
“Confess, you’ll live to see the judge.”
“Confess and he’ll put a bullet through me.”
“I’ll talk to him, you’ll survive,” the sheriff said.
“What guarantee do I have?”
“None, but your odds will increase. If you’re a gambler, you’d know to stack the cards in your favor.”
“I’ll think about it,” Bohdan said. “But that’s not a confession. I need some time to myself to decide what I’m going to do.”
“You have plenty of time, you have nothing better to do than sit in that cell and ponder your fate. I give you a week at the most before I find you dead in your cell. Two maybe. You think about that.”
Bohdan turned and looked away from the sheriff, hoping he’d leave him alone.