Dust to Dust
On April 14, 1935, the dust returned. Seven days later, a rather notorious physician in Boise City, Oklahoma was found dead of unknown causes. The police, more used to duels and dead cows than homicides, were stumped, especially since the doctor was strict (and cruel) enough about collecting his debts that motives abounded. That’s where Lillian Marot came in.
Lillian was a local celebrity around Boise City. Though the widow and her son were officially supported by donations organized by local churches, they were actually funded by the police and the Boise City underbelly alike, both of whom hired Lillian to solve the mysteries that were too small, too complicated, or too illegal for the law to manage. She was so sure she would be needed in Dr. Isaacs’ case that she didn’t even wait for Sheriff Engle to come knocking.
“Put that down while you walk,” Lillian reprimanded her son, who had nearly run into the door to Isaac’s practice due to his fascination with his old dime novel. He obeyed, but, once past the entryway, they were quickly stopped by a policeman.
“Ma’am,” began the young man, who Lillian didn’t recognize. He must have been new. “This is a crime scene. You are not allowed-”
“Yes, I am,” she replied, patting his shoulder. “Tell your boss that Ms. Marot has arrived. I’ll meet him in the office.”
Recognition flashed across his face at the name, and he let them march to the murder scene. On the way, Eugene snagged a chair from the waiting room, which he promptly set up outside the room when they arrived.
“Eugene, will you be comfortable out here?” asked Lilian, pulling on gloves and tying her graying hair back.
“Sure,” he answered, tapping his book, “I’ve got this.”
Confident in the twelve-year-old’s ability to handle himself, Lillian opened the door and started investigating. Since the body had been removed, she began with the desk, on which sat a framed photograph of a younger Dr. Isaacs holding what appeared to be a human heart, along with scribbled billing notes and a cracked china bowl containing dregs of soup congealed on the bottom. Moving away from the center, she inspected the windows (covered in dust), the filing cabinets, (also covered in dust, with the darkened splotches of a fingerprinting kit left behind), and the walls, which were decorated sparsely with diplomas (and, unsurprisingly, covered in dust).
Finally, Sheriff Engle walked into the room
“Is he necessary?” he asked, jerking his thumb at Eugene through the open door.
“It’s a Sunday,” Lillian retorted, not looking up from her examination of the floor. “He’s not in school.”
“And I can hear you,” interjected Eugene, finally looking up from his book.
“Sorry,” mumbled the sheriff without looking back at Eugene. “Lillian, what do you need to know?”
Lillian stood up. “How’d Isaacs die?”
“Asphyxiation,” responded Engle. “Only fingerprints on the scene were his and his secretary’s. We’re bringing her in for questioning now.”
Lillian peered closely at her hand before wiping it on the Sheriff. Before he could open his mouth to complain, she spoke again.
“Be nice to her.” She looked Engle in the eyes, hands on her hips. “I don’t think she did it, though I’m not sure who did. Can you get me a list of everyone who visited Isaacs today?”
“Um, yeah,” responded Engle, brushing newly deposited black particles off of his jacket. “Where are you going?”
Lillian walked over, and Eugene rose to join her. “Home,” she answered. With her investigation finished, Lillian left Dr. Isaacs’ office, her son trailing behind. However, when she returned to her small house outside of town, she locked her doors and kept her shotgun at her side.
The next morning, Lillian walked Eugene to school and went immediately to the police office for the list of Dr. Isaacs’ visitors. After glancing at it, she returned it to the officer. Then, she walked back to her house on the outskirts, grabbed her shotgun, and headed into the neighboring farmer’s field.
She sighed when she found him there, trying to save his desiccated crops.
“Couldn’t pay the doc, could you?” she asked in greeting. “You should’ve left, James.”
“Mornin’, Lillian,” he answered, eyes glued to the dust.
“Who put the diatomaceous earth in Doc Isaacs’ soup? You or Annie?”
He looked up from the dirt, eyes wide. “You figured it out?”
“You thought I wouldn’t?” His eyes tracked to her shotgun and then back to her face. “Prussic acid in soup to make it look like suffocating is smart. Leaving your china at the scene isn’t.”
“Lillian, we’re neighbors, please don’t…”
“I have to feed my family too.” She kept eye contact. “The police are paying me to find you.” The farmer dug his fingers into his palms, looking between her and his house. “I came to warn you, James. Take your family and go. I’m telling the police tomorrow.” She shook her head slowly. “It’s what you should’ve done in the beginning.”
“I can’t afford it.” The man squeezed his eyes closed, though it did nothing to stop the water from leaking out.
“Sell that damn china in the city and get out,” answered Lillian. She paused, shaking her head. “I’m sorry, James, but the police will be here in the morning.”
~ ~ ~
When the police arrived at the Rodgers farm the next morning, they found it abandoned. Later that day, they found most of china set from the crime scene pawned off to a secondhand store. It had been sold by a man fitting James Rodgers’ description. That was enough to earn Lillian her fee, and, after that, she lost track of the case.