Honking Tree Mystery

Please add to our soon-to-be rejected police procedural script:

Someone has cut down the beloved tree just outside of town. The tree is famous for being saved from ruin when the big highway was put in years ago. People came to like the tree and honked at it as if it was welcoming them into their town. Some even say it would wave back. It became known as the “honking tree.”

Scene of people gathering at cut tree, offering stories, memories. Some tears. Very folksy small-town scene where everyone seems to know everyone with a strong sense of community.

Enter our detective heroes. They talk to the cops, who say they’ve spoken to all the usual suspects and haven’t come up with anything.

You talk to the neighbors? No, they’re all at the site, mourning the tree like anyone else.

Plants the seed that our detectives know something the yokel cops don’t.

But wait, a student from the local school stops by and tells the detectives that rumors were flying around the school.

Detectives meet with senior class president. She says it wasn’t a prank, and set right a comments section on the local newspaper’s website to prove it. It was signed by all of us. We love that tree.

Cold lead.

Now the detectives are at a neighbor’s house. They are the crusty, don’t trust cops, especially plain-clothed city detectives like them, kind of couple. They got enough problems, what with me out of work and the wife only with a part-time job. The guy in the plaid shirtjack is doing all the talking and the detectives are reassuring them that this is the drill. Did you hear anything last night? See any strange cars? No. No.

Camera shows the wife being conspicuously quiet. Then we have a montage of the detectives visiting other people in the rural neighborhood with similar results.

There’s not a lot to go on, the detectives muse while getting drinks at the local tavern. They see plaid shirtjack, who gives them the evil eye and is obviously talking them down to his pool buddies. Our detective slaps some money on the bar and says, let’s go.

The other detective is wondering but goes. Soon they are back at shirtjack’s home to speak with the wife alone. Look, we told you everything we know. I don’t think you did, the detective is moving in. Tell us what you know. I know it’s hard some times when one person in a relationship is a bit overbearing. She breaks. Says her husband wasn’t home until 4 in the morning. She has no idea where he was last night or many other nights. She’s frustrated by his lack of communication in general. Makes her think. Hell, she says, he has a chainsaw in the back of his truck at all times. Maybe he did it.

The town is abuzz. Even TV news is there the next day. Detectives, aware that criminals like to watch the spectacle of their crime creates, are scoping the scene. One detective spots a teenager who darts away when they make eye contact.

Senior class prez in upon them again and begs the detectives to find out who did it so they can get her classmates off the hook. Even the mayor is saying we did it. She is pleading frantically but there is something overly phony about it. The detective looks up and sees the kid again.

We are led to believe that this kid knows something but can’t quite get the nerve to tell anyone.

Detectives ask class prez for an annual.

Detectives pore over the photos and one picks out the kid he saw at the crime scene. Turns out, it’s shirtjack’s kid.

Back at the bar that night, they corner shirtjack and embarrass him enough to take the talk to the back alley. They press him and he fights back hard with every cop-hating cliché in the book. Then a detective makes it personal and fibs a bit. Tells him how his wife is wondering about him at night, worried about his safety and his kid is troubled and tried to talk with us but ran away.

Shirtjack is exasperated and finally admits he wasn’t home that night and many other nights because he’s having an affair. So, you happy. It’s tough times all over, he says.

The detectives are satisfied with this moment of candor from shirtjack. The case is cold again, one of them says. Maybe not, the other says, tapping his notebook into his palm.

We go to the crime scene and there is the kid, sitting dejectedly. He doesn’t care now.

Seen you around here a lot, they say to him.
Yeah. It’s dumb, you know.
You mean whoever did this?
Look, we know about your troubles at home. It can be hard sometimes.
My drunk old man and my tweaky mom? Everybody’s got something.
Yeah, but who’s got enough to take it out on the tree?
Anybody. Look at the class prez.
What do you mean by that?
Nobody’s perfect. But she, she’s got serious issues.
Like what?
She just prances around like she’s the one, you know. A big phony. Now she gets even more attention with this tree thing.
Are you implying ….
No. Never mind.

Off to see class prez. She wants to know where this latest rumor about her came from. Detectives won’t say. They press her. The run of questions. She answers “no” indignately.
Look, you don’t look the type to handle a chainsaw. If this was someone else and you know about it, we can keep you out of it.
We all loved that tree. How dare you join the angry mob out for our heads. We are part of this community too so why would we cut down a piece of our heritage, our history.
Maybe not a prank, the detective says flatly. Maybe someone is just mad. You know anyone like that.
Lots of people are mad. It’s the economy. It’s this swine flu. Prom. It’s everything.
Yeah. Lots of pressure to get a date, make plans. It’s a big deal.
I bet you got asked to the prom.
Yeah. Too many times. I have a boyfriend in the next town that no one knows about, so everyone was asking me.
Lot of broken hearts then?
They move on. Well, except one. He was a basket case.
Oh yeah.
Yeah. He kept buggin me and then started trashing me behind my back. A real loser.
And then she says it was shirtjack’s kid.


Please continue …

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