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Authors: Bill Crider

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BOOK: A Mammoth Murder
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Hundreds, not dozens
, Rhodes thought. This time he did groan.
“Are you all right?” Claudia said.
“I'm fine,” Rhodes told her.
He could hear Hack laughing from across the room.
RHODES HAD PLANNED TO GO BACK TO BIG WOODS TO CHECK on the camp house that Bolton was having remodeled, but he called Bolton first, to let him know that he'd be on his property.
“I was just about to phone you, Sheriff,” Bolton said. “I just heard from Tom Vance, and he says that people are setting up tents on my property. I want you to run them off while you're there.”
Rhodes said he'd do what he could.
Jan and Claudia had gone back to the motel to change into jeans. Rhodes had promised to drive by there and let them follow him so they could have a look at the woods and the place where the mammoth bones were, but now he wished he hadn't. Things were getting too complicated. Still, a promise was a promise.
The Western Inn, just off the highway that led to Obert, was Clearview's newest motel, which meant that it was around thirty years old. Blacklin County wasn't exactly the state's most popular
tourist attraction. When Rhodes arrived, Claudia and Jan were waiting in the parking lot, which was full of the biggest pickups on the market, mostly four-door models with big mud tires.
Jan and Claudia stood beside a black Lincoln Aviator. They were wearing jeans and hiking boots. Claudia's Dooney and Bourke bag had been replaced by a backpack. Both women waved when he drove into the parking lot, and he pulled up behind the big SUV
When they'd visited him at the jail, he'd told them as much as he knew about Larry Colley. He'd also told them about Louetta Kennedy, and he figured that by now they'd have all sorts of theories to share with him. He was wrong. They didn't even want to talk. They wanted to get on the road.
Jan climbed into the driver's seat of the Aviator, and Claudia came over to the county car.
“You lead the way, and we'll follow,” she said. “Don't drive too fast. We don't want to get a ticket.”
Rhodes looked at her.
“Just kidding. We want to stop at the store where Ms. Kennedy was killed first, if that's all right.”
Rhodes said that it would be all right. He pulled out of the parking lot, and the Aviator followed.
When they stopped at Louetta's store, the old Ford was still there. Rhodes wondered what would happen to it. He pointed out to Claudia and Jan that the yellow and black crime-scene tape meant that they couldn't go inside. They didn't like that, because they wanted pictures. Rhodes told them that they'd have to be satisfied with exterior shots. Jan got a digital camera out of the Aviator and started walking around the building, taking the photos.
“I thought you two would have solved the crime for me by
now,” Rhodes told Claudia. “Surely you must have some theories about what happened.”
“We'd like to think it was a Bigfoot. He killed Larry Colley because Colley was invading his territory. Then he killed Ms. Kennedy.”
“Why would he kill her?”
“We're working on that,” Claudia said. “It's the only thing that makes sense.”
“Let me give you a crime-solving tip,” Rhodes said. “You know you're in trouble when your best theory pins the murders on Bigfoot.”
“Do you have a better one?”
Rhodes had to admit that he didn't. He was saved from elaborating by Jan, who came back to the Aviator and said that she had enough pictures. So they left the store to go to the site of the mammoth dig.
They went to the site from the correct side of the bridge, so they didn't have to cross Pittman Creek. Tom Vance was the only one there. Rhodes assumed that no one else had signed Bolton's waiver yet. Vance was working on the canopy he was going to put over the dig to protect everyone from the August sun.
He didn't seem to mind talking to Claudia and Jan about what he was planning, so Rhodes decided to leave them there to get some background material while he looked at the camp house.
“Have you had any trouble with feral hogs?” Rhodes asked Vance as he was getting into his car.
“Feral hogs?” Jan said. “What feral hogs? Nobody said anything about feral hogs.”
“You can tell them about the hogs,” Rhodes said to Vance, and then he drove away, smiling.
Rhodes hadn't wanted Claudia and Jan with him while he evicted the campers on Bolton's land. You never knew when someone might get a little rowdy, and Rhodes didn't want any civilians getting hurt unless they deserved it. He was pretty sure that Jan and Claudia didn't deserve it, but he wasn't so certain about the campers.
Rhodes was glad to see that there were only a couple of tents near the woods. He'd been afraid that there might be more. They were close together, so he figured he could save time and give his little speech only once.
When he stopped the county car, the first thing he saw was Bud Turley's Jeep. Bud was standing not far away.
“I can't believe this,” Rhodes said as soon as he got out of the car. “You know better than to have people camping out here, Bud. This is Gerald Bolton's land. And a crime scene.”
“I tried to tell them that,” Bud said. “They wouldn't listen.”
Rhodes looked around, but he didn't see anyone else. “Who's this they you're talking about? And how did they find out about all this in the first place?”
“I told them,” Bud said. “You can't keep it a secret when there's a Bigfoot sighting.”
“There hasn't been any sighting,” Rhodes said.
“I talked to Chester Johnson. He says he saw something.”
“He didn't see anything. He was just spooked by finding Colley.”
“That's your version,” Bud said. “Chester's pretty sure he saw and heard something. It could have been Bigfoot.”
“So you called every Bigfoot hunter in the state to let them know.”
“No, I just put a notice about the sighting on the Internet.”
“Even worse,” Rhodes said. “Well, we can't do anything about it now. You're just going to have to get your friends out of here, and you need to tell the rest of them holed up at the Western Inn that this is private property. It's also a crime scene, and it's off-limits to Bigfoot hunters.”
“You're letting Vance dig up bones.”
“That's different. He's not in the woods, and he's not causing a nuisance. And he has permission from the landowner, which you don't. The people who own these tents are trespassing. Now where are they?”
Turley took off his welder's cap and wiped the top of his shiny head. He put the cap back on and said, “They're in the woods.”
“You shouldn't have let them go in there,” Rhodes said. “It's dangerous, and you know it.”
For some reason Turley looked startled. He opened his mouth to say something, then shut it, then opened it again. “How could it be dangerous? You claim there's no Bigfoot in there, so they don't have anything to worry about.”
“I said there was no Bigfoot, but I didn't say there weren't any hogs.”
Turley laughed. “They're not afraid of hogs. They have their rifles.”
“Yes,” Rhodes said. “And your friends with rifles are more dangerous than the hogs are. A lot more dangerous than Bigfoot, too.”
Turley opened his eyes wide, as if that idea had never occurred to him. “They … uh, they'll be careful.”
“Sure they will,” Rhodes said.
He could see only one vehicle besides the county car and Turley's Jeep. A big Dodge Ram pickup, black and dusty, was parked behind one of the tents.
“How many hunters are here?” Rhodes asked.
Turley still looked a little upset. He said, “Just two. There might be some more later.”
“There won't be any more,” Rhodes said. “I'm going to have a look at the camp house where Colley was supposed to have been working. I shouldn't be gone more than half an hour. When I come back, I want these tents gone, and I don't want to catch you or any of your Bigfoot-hunting friends here again. If I do, you'll get to spend a while in the friendly confines of the county jail.”
Turley's face reddened. “You don't mean that.”
Turley was wearing his concealed-carry vest, and Rhodes could see that there was a pistol in one of the inside pockets.
“I do mean it,” Rhodes said. He hoped Turley wouldn't do anything stupid, like reach for the pistol. “And you'd better believe it. So go find your friends and get these tents down. Half an hour.”
“I … I can't go in there.”
“You can, and you will,” Rhodes said.
He didn't bother to listen to Turley's response. He just got in the car and left.
Glancing at the rearview mirror, he saw Turley standing there, watching the car, clenching and unclenching his hands.
As Rhodes remembered it, Bolton's camp house was a little more elaborate than the words implied. Staying there wouldn't be at all like camping out in one of the tents that Turley's friends had set up. Though the house had only one big room, there was a sleeping
loft with real beds, and it was furnished with a couch and comfortable chairs.
Bolton had arranged to have electricity run to the camp house, and Rhodes didn't even want to ask what it had cost him to do that. An air conditioner stuck out of a side window. Rhodes seemed to recall that there was a TV set inside, and even a chemical toilet in a little area that had been walled off from the main room. There was also a small refrigerator.
Bolton had paid to have a well dug in the back of the house, so there was water for washing dishes in the little kitchen area on one side of the room. You could even drink the water in a pinch, but it wasn't recommended.
All the comforts of home
, Rhodes thought, but the place had been allowed to run down after the family reunion and the disappearance of Ronnie Bolton.
There was a fence around the house, leaving a yard all around, but it was overgrown with weeds. Rhodes parked near the gate and got out. He could see some cattle grazing about a hundred yards away, but they didn't appear to have any interest in him.
The house was shaded by oaks and elms. Rhodes pushed open the gate and walked to the house through the weeds and the rotten branches that had fallen from the trees.
He stood for a minute on a concrete porch that was level with the ground. A couple of rusted metal lawn chairs sat beside the front door. Rhodes could see some signs that Colley, or someone, had been at work on the house. A couple of boards had been replaced near the front window, and the entire door facing was new and unpainted. Rhodes could smell sawdust and wood. The screen door was also new, shiny and unrusted.
The house wasn't locked, so Rhodes went inside. The air conditioner
wasn't on, and the air was stale and hot. A ceiling fan hung down in the middle of the room, with a cord danging from it. Rhodes pulled the cord and the fan came on, stirring the hot air around.
Rhodes didn't know what he expected to find in the house, but whatever it was, it wasn't there. The only jarring note was the power saw that sat in the middle of the floor by a toolbox. Then again, even if they didn't belong in a living room, the saw and toolbox were just part of the equipment Colley had used for his repair work.
There was an unemptied trash can under the sink, but that was no surprise, either. Rhodes already knew about Colley's poor housekeeping. Colley had brought his lunch with him, and Rhodes saw plenty of fast-food wrappings in the trash.
The exposed rafters under the high ceiling were lined with mounted deer antlers. For years there had been deer in Big Woods, and there still were, but not nearly as many as in times past. The hogs were seeing to that. They ate the fawns and chased the grown deer away.
Baseball caps hung from quite a few of the horns, as if someone had thrown them there and left them. The antlers and the caps reminded Rhodes of the skunks in Bolton's house: another meaningless accumulation, unless you were the owner.
Rhodes climbed the ladder that led to the low-ceilinged sleeping loft. It wasn't an easy climb, as the ladder went straight up from the floor, so he didn't go all the way. Even if he had, he wouldn't have been able to stand up. He would have had to search the loft in a crouch.
When his head was high enough to see above the floor of the loft, he noted that there was nothing there except four beds and
one old chair. He climbed back down, looked around the big room one more time, then went outside.
It was hot, but the porch was in the shade and there was a light breeze, so Rhodes sat down in one of the rusty lawn chairs to think things over. He had that same feeling that he'd missed something, that something he'd seen inside the house had a connection to the murders. Maybe if he sat there and thought about it, it would come to him.
BOOK: A Mammoth Murder
3.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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