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Authors: Bill Crider

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BOOK: A Mammoth Murder
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Rhodes said he'd get right over there.
The Clearview Public Library was big and square and white, a slab-sided building that sat right in the middle of an entire block surrounded by a wide lawn on all sides.
There was plenty of parking, but Rhodes had to walk what seemed like quite a distance to get to the door. When he got there, he had to push through a group of five or six people who were gathered to watch the fun inside. They were cheering someone or something, and they didn't much want to give up their positions when Rhodes asked them to move aside.
He was able to clear a path through them, however, and he was glad to get into the cool air-conditioned library. He saw Dora Foley, who wore glasses and put her graying hair up in a bun on top
of her head, as if she'd studied pictures of librarians in books from the 1940s and decided that she wanted to look as much like them as possible.
Dora stood behind the circulation desk, and Karen Sandstrom was beside her. As Rhodes watched, a book came wobbling through the air from the children's section, pages flopping like useless wings. The two women at the desk leaned to the left and right. The book passed between them and hit the wall behind them.
Dora picked it up and put it in a stack of books on the desk. Then she saw Rhodes and said in a loud voice, “The sheriff is here. You're in big trouble now.”
“I'm not afraid of the sheriff,” said a woman from somewhere in the children's section.
Rhodes couldn't see the speaker, but he recognized her voice.
“What's going on here, Mary Jo?” he said.
“She's crazy, that's what,” Dora said. “She came in here and started yelling and throwing books. She's going to have to pay for the ones she's mutilated, too. I won't put up with that kind of thing.”
“I'm not crazy,” Mary Jo said. She walked out where Rhodes could see her. “I'm just pissed off.”
She was wearing her tight jeans and western shirt, as if she'd dressed for her job at the Round-Up, but she didn't have on her cowboy hat. Her hair was loose and fell around her face.
“We don't allow that kind of language in here, either,” Dora said. “It's against library rules.”
Dora hadn't been in Clearview long. She'd moved there about six months earlier from a branch library in Houston. Jennifer
Loam had interviewed her for the paper, and Dora had said that she'd left the city because she wanted to get away from the crude habits and manners of the people who lived there.
Little did she know what she was getting into,
Rhodes thought. Small towns were not necessarily places of gentility and elegance.
As if to prove what Rhodes was thinking, Mary Jo said she didn't give a damn about library rules.
“Arrest her, Sheriff,” Dora said, pointing in Mary Jo's direction. “Arrest her right now.”
“I'll take care of this, Dora,” Rhodes said. “Mary Jo, you and I need to have a talk.”
Mary Jo told him what he could do with his talk.
“See what I mean?” Dora said. “She's crazy as a bedbug. We can't have language like that in the library!”
Mary Jo grabbed a book off a shelf and heaved it in Dora's direction. It was a heavy book, and it didn't make it to the desk. It hit on the floor and slid a foot or two. Rhodes could see the title. Something about Harry Potter.
“Arrest her, Sheriff!” Dora yelled.
“Not right now,” Rhodes said. “She and Karen and I will just borrow your meeting room for a little while and talk things over.”
Rhodes went into the library and walked around the far end of the desk.
“The room's right back here, Mary Jo. Come on. You, too, Karen.”
He went on to the room and sat down to see if anyone would show up. After a few seconds Karen came in.
“Hey, Sheriff,” she said.
“Have a seat,” Rhodes said, and she did.
They waited without talking for another minute or two. Mary Jo stuck her head in the door. She looked to Rhodes like a woman who badly needed a cigarette. Rhodes knew that if she lit one in the library, Dora would have a stroke, so he didn't suggest it. Mary Jo might very well have taken him up on it.
“I'm not going to jail,” Mary Jo said, still showing no more than her head. “All I did was throw a few books.”
“We'll see,” Rhodes said. “Come on in and sit down. You'd better close the door, too.”
Mary Jo came in. She closed the door behind her and went to a chair at the end of the table, as far from Karen as she could get.
“So,” Rhodes said. “What was all that about?”
“You'll have to ask Mary Jo,” Karen said. “I was just doing my job when she came in and went nuts.”
“I'm not nuts, and you and old lady Foley better quit saying I am. I could sue you for something or other if you don't.”
“Just calm down,” Rhodes said.
He waited while the two women glared at each other for a little while. Then he said to Mary Jo, “Now tell me why you came in here and started throwing books.”
“Ask her,” Mary Jo said, nodding in Karen's direction. “She knows.”
Rhodes looked at Karen, who shrugged.
“I'm asking you, Mary Jo,” he said.
Mary Jo gave a theatrical sigh.
“I guess I was a little upset.”
That was better than “pissed off.” Rhodes figured that Mary Jo was calming down.
“Why were you upset?” he asked.
Mary Jo looked at Karen and pushed her hair away from her face. Rhodes thought she might say “Ask her” again. Mary Jo fooled him, though.
She said, “Because she killed Larry, that's why.”
“What're you laughing at?” Mary Jo said.
“You,” Karen said when she got her laughter under control. She got a tissue out of her purse and wiped her eyes. “I thought you said you weren't crazy.”
“I'm not crazy, and you know it.”
“Then why are you saying I killed Larry?”
“You think I don't know he was sniffing around you? I knew, all right
Karen sneaked a look at Rhodes and said, “I don't know what you're talking about.”
“I do,” Rhodes said. “I've already talked to Buck today. You didn't quite get around to telling me everything you know during our first conversation.”
Karen slumped back against her chair. “I should've known you'd find out. I don't know why I didn't tell you.”
“Because you killed Larry,” Mary Jo said, slapping the tabletop with the flat of her hand. “That's why.”
Karen opened her mouth to argue, but Rhodes stopped her. He was afraid things were about to degenerate into a
Did not, did so
shouting match.
“What difference would it make to you if she did kill him?” Rhodes asked Mary Jo. “As I remember, you told me that you weren't sorry Larry was dead. You called him a lowlife, not to mention a couple of other things. And you said he never spent any time with you.”
Mary Jo's mouth twisted, and a tear trickled out of the corner of her eye.
“Maybe I exaggerated,” she said. “Me and Larry had some good times. Not many, but a few. It wasn't right that he was sniffing around Karen again.”
Karen's eyes widened. “You were jealous?”
Mary Jo sniffled. “Maybe,” she said.
Karen handed her a tissue.
“Thanks,” Mary Jo said.
She took it and wiped her eyes, then blew her nose. She got up and threw the tissue in a trash can that sat in the corner of the room. When she sat back down, she was more composed.
“I drove by here one afternoon and saw him watching the door,” she said. “I knew what he was waiting for. I think he missed you even when he was married to me. After all, you were a librarian, and I was just a waitress, which is all I'll ever be.”
That wasn't much different from what Buck Sandstrom had
said about Larry earlier, and for all Rhodes knew it was equally accurate.
“I don't know what he was thinking,” Karen said. She got up and moved over to sit beside Mary Jo, whose hands were clasped on top of the table. Karen put her hand on top of Mary Jo's. “But whatever it was, it didn't matter to me. I didn't want him back. He wasn't worth even thinking about, and you shouldn't worry about what he thought of you. You have a good job, you take home a salary, you're responsible for yourself. Larry wasn't any of those things. You're a lot better than he ever was.”
“Maybe he was trying to be responsible,” Mary Jo said. “Maybe he'd thought about how empty his life was and wanted to do better.”
It sounded to Rhodes like something Mary Jo might have heard on a soap opera, but again it echoed Buck's assessment. Somehow it seemed to Rhodes that what they said should have meant more to him, that it tied into something that he'd overlooked, something that had been trying to get his attention but that he kept missing.
Karen and Mary Jo continued to talk, and it was as if Rhodes weren't even in the room. He decided that he might as well leave. Mary Jo wouldn't be throwing any more books, and the library could go back to its normal routine.
Rhodes closed the door quietly as he left, and he stopped at the front desk to speak to Dora Foley. As far as he could tell, the disturbance seemed to be forgotten. People were using the computers and flipping through the magazines. One young woman was helping her little boy pick out a book in the children's section.
Dora Foley was behind the desk. She had a harried look. “I hope you're going to arrest that woman,” she said, pushing at her bun to straighten it. “It will take us quite a while to reshelve the
books she threw, and some of them might need repair. We don't get a lot of money from the city for things like that.”
“I don't think it will break the city to pay for a few book repairs,” Rhodes said.
“And that's not all,” Dora said, as if Rhodes hadn't spoken. “You heard the language she used. I'm sure that's against the law.”
“I'm afraid not,” Rhodes said. “That is, unless you want to file a specific complaint. Disturbing the peace, maybe, or causing a public nuisance.”
Dora folded her arms across her chest. “I don't want to cause trouble. But still …”
“Mary Jo was upset,” Rhodes said. “You have to make allowances for that sort of thing.”
After a pause, Dora said, “I suppose that's true. If you say so. But I feel it was highly inappropriate.”
“It was. But it won't happen again.”
“I don't see how you can be sure of that.”
“Because I'm an experienced lawman,” Rhodes said.
Dora Foley grinned. “Well,” she said, “I guess that settles that.”
At times when Rhodes needed to get away from everyone, he liked to visit his “official” office in the courthouse. He could have worked out of it all the time if he'd wanted to, but that would have involved some changes in his routine that he wasn't ready to make. So he went there only when he wanted to get away for a while. Even at that, he had to call the jail to let Hack know where he'd be. He got on the radio.
“Just as well you called in,” Hack said.
Of course, he didn't say why. He wanted Rhodes to ask, and rather than prolong the agony, Rhodes gave in and said, “Why?”
“Because we've had a couple of calls,” Hack said.
“What kind of calls?”
“The kind of calls the sheriff needs to know about.”
Rhodes didn't sigh into the mike, as he figured it would give Hack too much satisfaction. He said, “Are you going to let me know what they were?”
“You don't have to get snippy about it,” Hack said.
“I'm not getting snippy.”
“Yes, you are. I know snippy when I hear it.”
“Never mind about snippy. Tell me about the calls.”
“One of ‘em was from that Dr. Vance. He just wanted you to know that he'd talked to Bob Anderson, the biology teacher out at the high school, and some of Bob's students are going out to the mammoth dig this afternoon to help out. They're prob'ly there by now. He mentioned those two women friends of yours, too.”
Rhodes waited. Hack said nothing. Rhodes didn't try to outwait him. He said, “What did he say about them?”
“That they'd been a big help to him. They don't mind gettin' dirty, he says. He meant that as a compliment. He thinks they've located where a tusk might be. You might want to let Bud Turley know.”
Rhodes hadn't thought about Turley and his friends all day. “I will if I see him. Why don't you call the motel and see if those Bigfoot hunters checked out. I meant to do that, but I didn't.”
“You must be gettin' old and forgetful. Anyway, you don't have to worry about it. Ruth went by there around noon, which is checkout time in case you didn't know. She said the parkin' lot was clear.”
Rhodes was glad to hear that someone was taking care of business. He said, “Good. Is there anything else I need to know about in those calls?”
“Just the usual. Some stray horses on the road out by Obert, windshield wipers stolen off a car parked downtown. Some trucker got lost on the way to the power plant and called for help.”
“I'm guessing that all that's been taken care of.”
“Yeah. But you're the sheriff. You need to be informed of what's goin' on.”
“And I appreciate it,” Rhodes said. “If there's an emergency, give me a call at the courthouse.”
“What's an emergency?”
“Stray horses don't count,” Rhodes told him.
No trials were going on that afternoon, and the high-ceilinged halls in the courthouse were quiet. There were the usual lines in the county clerk's office, but even there it wasn't as hectic as it sometimes was. Rhodes's rubber-soled shoes squeaked along the marble floors.
Rhodes went first to the new Dr Pepper machine, which he didn't like at all. For as long as he could remember, he'd been able to get Dr Pepper in glass bottles from an old machine that, he was forced to admit, had seen better days. But when it had broken down a month or so ago, it had been replaced by a garish new eight-foot-tall monstrosity that looked more like some kind of futuristic jukebox than a soft drink machine.
Not that Rhodes cared much about its appearance. What mattered to him was that it dispensed Dr Pepper in large plastic bottles.
The plastic bottles were better than cans, of course, and there
was quite a bit more Dr Pepper in them than in a can or the old glass bottles, but the fact was that Dr Pepper just tasted better in glass.
Taste, Rhodes supposed, was relative. He had never quite recovered from the big changeover to the use of corn syrup instead of sugar as the sweetener in his favorite drink. A lot of years had gone by, and by now he should have adjusted. Others may have been able to, but he hadn't.
He was sure that a spokesperson for Dr Pepper would maintain that the taste was unaffected by the change, but Rhodes knew better. At least one bottler, in Dublin, Texas, still made Dr Pepper the old-fashioned way, and Rhodes had once ordered a case of the “real” ones and had it sent to him. He'd parceled the drinks out over a month or so, enjoying every sip.
Now, however, Rhodes had to settle for what he could get, and that was a big clear plastic bottle, dispensed with such a clunking frenzy that it was well shaken by the time it arrived in the slot. He had to wait a couple of minutes before opening it to be sure it didn't fizz all over his hand and the courthouse floor.
While he was waiting, he bought a package of orange crackers with peanut butter filling from another new machine. When the crackers fell into the bin, Rhodes got them out and went to his office.
He brushed away a spiderweb that dangled from a light fixture. He was going to have to come in more often.
Rhodes sat in his chair and put the crackers on his desk while he opened the Dr Pepper. It fizzed, but only a little. He took a swallow and opened the crackers, thinking that he really needed to do something about his eating habits.
He usually managed to eat some shredded wheat in the mornings.
He figured that had to be good for him. Ivy said it was like eating hay, but he told her that fiber was important for a healthy diet.
Then Ivy saw to it that he had something in the evenings, something that was considerably better than the beanie-weenie, bologna sandwich, or occasional bowl of canned chili that had been his staples before he'd married her. She insisted that he eat a low-fat meal, but the menu was at least a little bit varied.
It was lunch that was doing him in. A Blizzard wasn't a balanced meal, no matter how you looked at it, and you couldn't say much more for a Dr Pepper and a package of peanut butter and crackers, either.
I'll do better,
Rhodes thought as he picked up the crackers and opened the cellophane wrapper.
Starting tomorrow. Or the next day.
The cellophane crackled open, and Rhodes got out the first orange square.
Protein, he thought as he took a bite of the cracker.
Peanut butter has protein. Protein's good for you.
He finished the cracker and washed it down with Dr Pepper. He leaned back and got comfortable in his chair. All he had to do was decide how all the pieces fit together, and he'd know who'd killed Larry Colley and Louetta Kennedy.
The only problem was that he didn't know for sure if he had all the pieces, much less how to fit them together.
He started by thinking about cars and trucks.
BOOK: A Mammoth Murder
4.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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