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Authors: Bill Crider

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BOOK: A Mammoth Murder
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He handed the shotgun to Johnson, who took it with his free hand, and went to the body. He knelt down beside it and looked at the wound. The dead man had been hit on the right side of the back of his head by something hard and heavy, something that had left a depression several inches long. Rhodes lifted the head up and looked at the face.
“You know him, Sheriff?” Johnson said.
“I know him,” Rhodes said.
The dead man was Larry Colley.
RHODES AND DEPUTY RUTH GRADY WORKED THE CRIME SCENE until almost dark, which at that time of the year came around eight thirty. Mosquitoes buzzed around them, and Rhodes was glad that he always carried insect repellent in the county car. Even the repellent didn't keep all the pests away, though, and he had been bitten a couple of times.
After three hours, he and Ruth hadn't found a single clue.
“We know someone else was here,” Ruth said. She was short and stout and probably the best deputy in the department. “That's about all.”
“By someone,” Rhodes said, “do you mean something?”
Ruth grinned. “You don't really think Bigfoot bashed in Larry Colley's head, do you?”
Rhodes wasn't sure what he believed. Right at the moment, it seemed that either Bigfoot had killed Colley or that Colley had just dropped out of the sky into the woods. The area where Colley
had been killed had been so little disturbed that it was as if he'd been alone all the time.
Johnson's pickup had driven into the pasture and out of it, and then Rhodes had followed it back in with the county car. So any tracks from another vehicle, assuming that there had been any, were obliterated. Johnson claimed that he hadn't seen a car or pickup anywhere around, but there were plenty of places where one could be hidden.
The hog path was too hard to take footprints, and the floor of the woods, even in the clearing, was thick with leaves and sticks and vines. There was not much chance that a heavy man, even one carrying a body, would have left any impression.
Rhodes didn't think Colley had been carried in, anyway. The path was too narrow for anyone to walk along while carrying a body without snagging something, and Rhodes had looked along every inch of the path all the way out to the edge of the trees to see if there was anything caught on a tree branch. He'd found nothing.
The path, of course, went on past the clearing and farther into the woods, where it eventually petered out near another little clearing where the ground was concave and had held water from the rain. The hogs used it for a wallow when it was wet like that.
Rhodes had gone down the path to the wallow. He'd found nothing. Nothing at all.
Colley might have been dragged into the clearing, Rhodes thought. It was possible, but there was nothing to indicate it. If someone had dragged him, the signs had been obliterated. So it was possible that he'd walked there under his own power.
“I wish we had a murder weapon,” Ruth said. “If Bigfoot did it, he was at least smart enough to carry his blunt instrument away.”
“We'll know more after the autopsy,” Rhodes said.
The justice of the peace had been there and declared Larry Colley dead, and the body had been taken away in an ambulance. Dr. White would work on it later that evening.
“Do you really think we'll know any more?” Ruth asked.
Rhodes didn't, but he didn't want to admit it. He looked around the clearing and wiped sweat off his face while trying to look thoughtful and confident. He wished he had a Dr Pepper.
“We'll at least get some idea of the time of death,” he said.
“The heat and humidity in here might make that hard to determine.”
Ruth wasn't making Rhodes feel any better.
“At least the hogs didn't get him,” she continued.
“Where are those hogs?” Rhodes said. “I haven't heard a sound out of them.”
“It's almost as if something's keeping them away from here,” Ruth said, and started humming something that approximated the theme from
The Twilight Zone
“Bigfoot again,” Rhodes said. “You'd think a shaggy fella like him would leave some hair stuck on a twig now and then.”
“There you go, being logical again.”
Rhodes didn't recall having been logical before.
“Do you have any suspects?” Ruth asked.
“Sure. Everybody Colley ever knew.”
“That must be a pretty long list. What will you do about it?”
“Start narrowing it down,” Rhodes said.
Bud Turley's house was a few miles outside the Clearview city limits, about halfway to Obert, a small town that had long ago been home to a small college. The campus was now used for retreats
and a workshop for aspiring writers. Rhodes had been more involved with the last workshop there than he'd wanted to be, mainly because of a murder that had occurred.
Rhodes pulled his car into the graveled driveway behind Turley's Jeep. The house was old, and the paint was flaking off the sides. It was nearly ten o'clock. There were no lights on inside the house, but Rhodes could hear loud music, and there was light coming from somewhere in back.
Rhodes got out of the car and walked around the house. A big sheet-metal barn squatted there. Several cars and an old pickup were parked in the darkness, either repaired or waiting for someone to tinker with them. Rhodes walked past them without paying them much attention.
Turley's Jeep was parked near the wide doors in one end of the building. The doors were open, and the place was lit by fluorescent bulbs. The floor of the barn was hard-packed dirt, darkened in most places by stains made by oil and other automotive fluids.
Bud Turley was working on something under the hood of a rusty-fendered Oldsmobile. Rhodes didn't know how old the car was, but he didn't think Oldsmobiles were even being built anymore.
A country song from around 1975, something by Don Williams, played on a black plastic radio that sat on a workbench. The radio was almost lost in the litter of tools and oily rags that covered the top of the bench.
Because the music was turned up loud and because Turley had his head well up under the hood of the ancient Oldsmobile, he didn't see Rhodes come in. Rhodes waited until the song stopped playing and said, “Hey, Bud.”
Turley slipped out from under the hood. He held a spark-plug
wrench in his right hand, and there was a dark line of grease on his cheek.
“Hey, Sheriff,” he said. He gestured with the wrench. “You got some car trouble you need fixed?”
“Not that kind of trouble,” Rhodes said. “This kind can't be fixed. Not with a wrench or anything else.”
“Sounds bad,” Turley said.
He put the wrench down on the top of a red rolling tool cabinet that was nearby. Rhodes thought it must have come from a flea market, because it looked as if it had fallen down a flight of concrete stairs. Turley wiped his hands on a greasy rag he pulled from his back pocket. He wasn't wearing a cap, and the lights reflected from his shiny head.
“You haven't lost that Bigfoot tooth I gave you, I hope,” he said.
“No, it's not that.” Rhodes had never found a good way to tell someone that a friend or family member was dead. “Somebody's killed Larry Colley.”
Turley didn't change expression. He kept right on wiping his hands. It was almost as if he hadn't heard. Finally he said, “That's not very funny, Sheriff.”
“It's not a joke,” Rhodes told him. “Someone found his body out in Big Woods late this afternoon.”
Turley stuck the rag back in his pocket and walked over to the workbench. On the radio Conway Twitty was singing now, something about a woman who wore tight-fitting jeans. Turley turned off the radio, and in the sudden silence Rhodes could hear the humming of the fluorescent light tubes. A wooden folding chair stood at one end of the workbench. Turley sat down in it and looked up at Rhodes.
“You sure it was Larry?” he said.
“I saw the body. I'm sure.”
“Larry was supposed to be here tonight, help me work on that Olds.” Turley shook his head. “I wondered why he didn't show up.”
“You'd been friends for a long time,” Rhodes said.
“Since junior high. We hunted arrowheads together all over this county before we started to look for Bigfoot. Larry was the only one who never laughed at me about that.” Turley shook his head. “He always claimed he was abducted by a UFO, but I never believed it.”
He pronounced UFO as a word: “you-fo.”
“Some people think you were a little jealous about that.”
“Then I'm going to be a lot more jealous now. First he gets abducted and then he gets killed by Bigfoot.”
“I don't think he was killed by Bigfoot,” Rhodes said. “I think it was somebody like you or me.”
“You don't know what's in those woods, Sheriff. Nobody knows. Larry should never have gone in there by himself.”
“Somebody was with him,” Rhodes said. “The person who killed him.”
“If you say so.”
“You weren't with him, were you?”
Turley tried a grin. It didn't work. He said, “You think I killed Larry? Why would I do that? Because he got a ride in a UFO and I didn't?”
“I didn't say you killed him. I was wondering if you might have any idea what he was doing in Big Woods.”
“He was supposed to come over here and help me this afternoon. I didn't know where he was.” Turley ran a hand across the
top of his head. The rag hadn't removed all the grease, and he left a black mark just above his forehead. “The son of a bitch.”
“Hard words for a friend.”
“I'm thinking of why he was out at the Woods. He must've been looking for where I found that tooth. He was mad when I called and told him about it. He said I shouldn't have gone off without him. But he had something else to do, so I went. He must've decided to look for the place instead of helping me with this car.”
“You mentioned that he had something else to do this morning,” Rhodes said. “What was it?”
“He wouldn't tell me. Said it was none of my business.”
“He wasn't doing any bill collection, was he?”
“Is that supposed to mean something?”
“There'd been some complaints about his methods.”
“None of 'em ever stuck, though, did they?” Turley rubbed his chin. A black mark appeared on one side. “Larry could be a little rough sometimes, I guess. You think somebody killed him because of that?”
“I don't know. I'm just asking questions to see if I can find out something that will help me. Can you think of anybody who might want to kill Larry?”
“He has a couple of ex-wives. You talk to them?”
“I will,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes knew about the wives. He'd given Ruth Grady the job of notifying them of Colley's death. He wasn't sure that either of them would be grief-stricken, not from what he'd heard about Colley's domestic affairs.
“What about enemies?” Rhodes said. “People he'd been in fights with, people he'd threatened.”
“Sheriff, you know as well as I do that Larry liked to fight. Hell, I've been in a few fights with him myself. You know that, too. You've put a stop to one or two of them. He might have been in some I didn't know about. I don't have him on a leash.”
“What about other friends, people I should talk to?”
“Larry wasn't a friendly sort. People thought he was a little crazy.” Turley tried another grin. This one stayed on his face. “They think the same thing about me, but that tooth will prove they're wrong.”
“Has he been doing any work lately?” Rhodes looked around the shop. “I don't mean here with you. He did some odd jobs now and then, didn't he? Fence building, house painting, that kind of thing.”
“Yeah, he picked up a little money like that when things were slow around here, but not lately. Damn. I just can't believe he's dead.”
“He was your friend,” Rhodes said. “You must have some idea about what he was doing.”
“I can't think of anything,” Turley said. “I'd tell you if I could. I want you to get whoever did it. And then I want you to let me share a cell with him for about half an hour.”
Rhodes didn't bother to comment on that idea. He said, “If you think of anything that might help me, give me a call.”
“I will,” Turley said, and Rhodes started out of the barn.
He hadn't gotten far when Turley called him back. Turley was standing in the wide doorway, silhouetted by the lights. He looked a little like Bigfoot himself. Rhodes returned to the barn to see what he had to say. He could hear music from inside. Turley had turned on the radio again.
“I just remembered,” Turley said when Rhodes got close
enough to hear clearly. “Larry had been doing a little work on the side. You know Gerald Bolton?”
“He owns the land where Colley was found,” Rhodes said.
BOOK: A Mammoth Murder
11.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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