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Authors: Bill Crider

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BOOK: A Mammoth Murder
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CLYDE BALLINGER WAS IN HIS OFFICE IN BACK OF THE FUNERAL home when Rhodes arrived. He was reading an old paperback, which was not unusual. His desk was covered with them, and he read them at every opportunity. The one he held up for Rhodes to see was called
The Green Wound.
“They don't write ‘em like this anymore,” Ballinger said. “And nobody would buy 'em if they did.”
“Why not?” Rhodes asked.
“Because people don't have any taste. They want four hundred pages of serial killers, car chases, and explosions.”
“You must be thinking about the movies,” Rhodes said. “They're all long and loud. Sometimes when I see one of the new ones, I feel like I've been on a carnival ride.”
Ballinger put a piece of paper between the pages to mark his place and laid the book on his desk with all the others. “Did you
ever consider the fact that it might be you and me who're out of step?” he said.
“You mean that books and movies are actually a lot better now and we're wrong to think the old ones are better?”
Ballinger nodded. “Hard to believe, isn't it. What it means is that we've become old farts.”
“It's barely possible that we could be right. There's always a chance of that.”
“Two chances,” Ballinger said. “Slim and none.”
“And we're not that old,” Rhodes said. “Middle-aged at most.”
“Yeah, if you're planning to live to be a hundred. In my business I see a whole lot of dead people, but I don't see many that age. Come to think of it, I haven't seen one that age in years.”
“Speaking of your business,” Rhodes said.
“Dr. White finished the autopsy, if that's what you mean. He wrote it all up, and he's probably delivered it to your office by now. It won't tell you anything you didn't already know, though.”
Rhodes had been afraid of that. The language would be a little fancier, but what it would add up to was the fact that someone had hit Larry Colley in the back of the head with the traditional blunt instrument and killed him. Well, it wasn't as bleak as that. White would know whether Colley had died in the clearing or been brought there.
“What about the clothes?” Rhodes said.
“We can go get them.” Ballinger stood up. “You think they'll be full of clues?”
“Two chances they will be,” Rhodes said. “Slim and none.”
Ballinger's funeral home had once been one of the grander mansions in Clearview, with a big front lawn and oak trees for shade, tennis courts in the back, and even a little building that was used for servants' quarters. That building was where Ballinger now had his office. He and Rhodes had to walk across a small parking area to the main structure. Rhodes supposed it was ironic that this place that had been home to a large and prominent family was now used for a mortuary, but it wasn't something that bothered him.
They went in through a back door, and Ballinger led Rhodes to a small storeroom. He opened the door and took out a plastic bag.
“Shoes, shirt, pants, underwear,” he said. “Your deputy took the other things.”
Rhodes took the bag. He didn't open it. He'd have a look later, after he'd talked to the professor about the Bigfoot tooth.
“When's the funeral?” he asked.
Ballinger didn't know. “Nobody wants to make the arrangements.”
“You've talked to his ex-wives?”
“Both of them. Maybe the county will have to bury him.”
“Try Bud Turley,” Rhodes said.
“I should have thought of him first,” Ballinger said.
Tom Vance looked like Rhodes's idea of a college professor. He had gray hair, parted neatly on the left, and he wore a light blue dress shirt with a dark blue tie.
“I just had my last class of the summer session,” he told Rhodes, “not counting the final exam. I'm ready for a break.”
“How long do you get?” Rhodes asked.
They were in the jail. Vance sat in a wooden chair by Rhodes's desk, while Hack and Lawton pretended to be busy. Rhodes knew, however, that they were listening to every word.
“Less than a week,” Vance said. “When I started teaching, I thought I'd have great summer vacations, but every summer I wind up teaching classes.”
“You must enjoy your work.”
“That.” Vance paused. “And I need the money.”
“Don't we all. Bud Turley tells me you're a paleontologist.”
“That's right. I like to dig up prehistoric animals.”
“What about Bigfoot?”
Vance laughed. “I've never seen one, and I've never seen the bones of one. But when Turley called, he sounded pretty excited about this tooth he found.”
“It's a big tooth,” Rhodes said. “That's all I know about it. I'll get it and let you have a look.”
Just as Rhodes got to his feet, Bud Turley came through the front door. Right behind him was Jennifer Loam, a young, intense-looking woman who was a reporter for the
. Or, Rhodes thought,
reporter for the
. The local newspaper didn't have a lot of employees.
“I hope you weren't going to start without me,” Turley said. “I had to stop by the newspaper office first.”
“Had to alert the media, huh?” Hack said.
Rhodes gave him a look. So did Turley.
“Sorry,” Hack said, but Rhodes could tell he didn't mean it.
Jennifer Loam had something new, a tiny digital recorder. Rhodes knew it would already be turned on.
“Sheriff,” she said, “would you like to comment on the Bigfoot tooth that Mr. Turley has found?”
“We don't know what kind of tooth it is,” Rhodes said. “We're just about to get an expert opinion.”
He introduced Vance to both Loam and Turley and went to the evidence locker. He got out the tooth and took it back to his desk.
“Well,” Vance said after giving it a cursory glance, “it's a tooth, all right, and it came from an animal with big feet.”
“Bigfoot,” Turley said. His face broke out in a wide grin. “I knew it.”
“I said the animal had big feet,” Vance told him. “Not that it was Bigfoot.”
Turley's grin disappeared. “It's not?”
“No. That's a tooth from a Columbian mammoth.”
Rhodes knew next to nothing about mammoths. In fact, as far as he could remember, he knew only one thing: that they were woolly.
“A woolly mammoth?” he said.
Vance disappointed him.
“No. There were never any woolly mammoths in Texas. The Columbian mammoth was an even bigger animal. Bigger than any Bigfoot, I promise you. They could stand as high as twelve to thirteen feet at the shoulder. A woolly mammoth would have been about three feet shorter.”
So Rhodes had known even less about mammoths than he'd thought. He said, “All right. We know it's not Bigfoot. I didn't ever think it was.”
He didn't look at Turley, who said, “Is this a valuable find?”
Vance did look at Turley. “I'm sorry to have to tell you that it's not very valuable. Mammoths are a dime a dozen in Texas. People find their remains all the time when they're building highways or digging foundations. Where was this one found?”
“Down on Pittman Creek,” Turley said.
He didn't sound happy about the fact that his Bigfoot dream had been shattered, but then he had other things to be unhappy about, including the death of his best friend.
“And that's in Blacklin County?” Vance said.
“Yeah, the southern part.”
“That at least makes it interesting, because as far as I know, there's never been a mammoth find in this county.” Vance reached out and touched the tooth. “Besides that, this one seems to be in a very good state of preservation, which would make it worth more.”
“How old is it?” Turley said.
“I don't really know. I'd say at least ten or twelve thousand years old. Maybe much older. But if it's from more recent times, say ten thousand years ago, there's a bare chance that we'll find that it was in some way associated with humans. The Clovis people, to be specific.”
Rhodes didn't think ten thousand years ago was exactly recent times, but then he wasn't thinking in terms of geologic eras.
“Larry Colley and I found some Clovis points in that area a few years ago,” Turley said.
“If we could find Clovis points associated with the bones, that would add to the historical value,” Vance said.
“How much money are we talking about?”
“Hard to say. If the tusks are there, they're valuable for their ivory. People love to make pistol grips from them. If the skull is intact and well preserved, then you're talking about something worth still more, and it's more interesting besides. But even at that, you're not talking about huge amounts of money. The main interest would be purely scientific, but I wouldn't mind doing the dig.”
Turley didn't look too pleased with that idea. “A dig?” he said.
“A proper one. In some ways, this is even better than Bigfoot. It's from something real, something that can tell us about the history of this county.”
“It won't tell us anything about Bigfoot, though,” Turley said. “That's what I was hoping for.”
“I don't think you should hope too hard,” Vance said. “As a scientist, I can tell you that there's not much likelihood of a Bigfoot ever turning up here. Or anywhere else.”
Turley opened his mouth to say something, then closed it and shook his head.
“I think a dig for the mammoth bones would be a good idea,” Vance continued. “We'd have to find out who owns the land first, and then get permission. Do you know, Mr. Turley?”
Turley hemmed and hawed and finally said he believed that the land was owned by Gerald Bolton. Rhodes had suspected as much. The bones had been found not far from Big Woods.
“I'll try to get in touch with him if he's in the phone book,” Vance said. “A dig would be interesting for my students, and maybe some of the local science teachers would like to get involved. It would even bring the county some good publicity.”
At the word “publicity,” Rhodes looked at Jennifer Loam, who was jotting some notes on a notepad rather than relying on her little recorder. Maybe she didn't trust technology. That seemed to Rhodes to be a sensible attitude. He didn't trust technology himself.
She must have noticed Rhodes looking at her, because she stopped writing and said, “Speaking of publicity, do you think there's any connection between the mammoth bones and the murder?”
If Jennifer had been trying to get everyone's attention, she'd certainly succeeded.
Tom Vance turned to her and said, “Murder?”
“A man named Larry Colley was killed in the vicinity of Gerald Bolton's property yesterday,” Jennifer said. “I believe murder is suspected. Isn't that right, Sheriff?”
Rhodes said that it was but that as far as he knew, there was no connection between the mammoth and the murder. He didn't see how there could be.
“It seems like a strange coincidence, then,” Jennifer said. “A mammoth's bones are found, and a man is killed not far away on the same day.”
Rhodes wasn't fond of coincidences, but as far as he could tell that's what they were dealing with.
“Have you made any progress in your investigation?” Jennifer asked.
“Some,” Rhodes said. He noticed Hack looking at him from across the room. “Not much, though,” he added.
For Vance's benefit, he went on to explain about what had happened to Larry Colley.
“It shouldn't interfere with whatever you want to do,” Rhodes said. “In fact, I have to see Gerald Bolton, so I'll ask him about the dig.”
Vance didn't appear to be very happy with the turn of events. Murder was bad enough, but Rhodes had also happened to mention the feral hogs that roamed the area.
“Maybe we should just forget about the dig,” Vance said. “It sounds as if you might be inconvenienced. And I don't like the idea that feral hogs are running around out there. They could destroy the dig without half trying, and they might hurt someone. There might be liability questions.”
BOOK: A Mammoth Murder
2.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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