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Authors: Bill Crider

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BOOK: A Mammoth Murder
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“You don't have to worry about interfering,” Rhodes said. “Probably not about the hogs, either. They don't come out of the woods much in the daylight, and maybe you could put a fence up around the dig. That might keep them away. Why don't we ride out and have a look at the place where the bones are. I'm sure Bud would be willing to show it to us. Isn't that right, Bud?”
Turley hemmed and hawed some more and appeared more reluctant than ever to give up his secret, but eventually he agreed. He must have known that sooner or later he'd have to tell someone where the bones were.
“I'm going, too,” Jennifer said. “I want some pictures for the paper.”
Rhodes had a feeling she wanted more than that. She wanted to pump him about Colley's death.
“Can you not print the location for a while?” Vance asked her. “People have a way of trampling all over the place and spoiling things, and they like to take souvenirs. They could really mess things up. Not as bad as feral hogs would, but bad enough.”
Jennifer thought it over before saying, “All right. I won't print the location.”
“No pictures, either,” Vance said. “People could figure out the location from them.”
“Fine. But people will find out the location soon enough without any help from the paper. And pictures or no pictures, I'm still coming along.”
“You can ride in the Jeep with Bud, then,” Rhodes said. He didn't plan to be trapped in the car with her.
Even that didn't discourage her. “That's fine,” she said.
TOM VANCE WAS QUIET AS THEY DROVE SOUTH. RHODES FIGURED that the teacher was thinking about the possibility of digging for the mammoth, or maybe he was more concerned with the possibility of being attacked by feral hogs while looking for old bones.
Rhodes didn't mind the silence. He was trying to remember a little about the autopsy report that he'd hardly had time to look at before Vance arrived at the jail.
In the report Dr. White made it clear that Colley had died at the place where he'd been found. The postmortem lividity indicated that quite clearly.
Dr. White had also concluded that Colley had been killed by the traditional blunt instrument. Not a tree branch or something handy in the woods, because there was no sign of anything like that in the wound. More likely it had been something metal, like a jack handle. Dr. White had made a cast of the wound, in case Rhodes turned up a weapon that he'd like to try to match to it.
Rhodes wasn't sure he'd ever find a weapon, certainly not before he found a lot of other things. He'd looked all over the area where the body had been found, but there was no sign of a heavy piece of metal. So what Rhodes was wondering about was how Colley had gotten to Big Woods, and why he'd gone there. There had been no sign of a vehicle, and since there was nobody living in the area, there was no chance that anybody had seen one.
The county car was passing through Thurston about that time. Someone in the little town might have seen the killer's car, but because the road through town was a fairly busy highway, no one would have paid any special attention to a car driving through.
There was one person who might have noticed a car, though. Louetta Kennedy. Rhodes told himself that he'd have to stop by her store on his way back to Clearview and have a little talk with her.
As it happened, the route Turley was driving took them right by Louetta's store, which meant that Turley and Colley had been near the woods at the same time. Louetta's old Ford was parked in its usual place. Rhodes looked for Louetta on the porch, but the plastic lawn chair was empty. Maybe it was cooler inside, or maybe Louetta had some shelves that needed stocking.
Rhodes followed Turley's Jeep past the road he'd taken the previous day through Bolton's land to Big Woods, but not far past it. Turley pulled off to the side of the road just before he came to an old wooden bridge over Pittman Creek. He parked the Jeep with two wheels on the road and two off in the ditch beside it, leaving the Jeep leaning to the right at a sharp angle. It didn't seem to bother Jennifer Loam, who climbed out without any trouble. Turley, who was going uphill, had a harder time of it, but not much.
Rhodes parked the county car behind the Jeep. He and Vance had to contend with heavy doors, so it was harder for them to get
out than it had been for the passengers in the open Jeep. Rhodes let the door on his side slam shut behind him. Vance left his open while he took off his tie and tossed it inside the car. Then he shoved hard on the door and closed it.
Rhodes and Vance walked to the bridge where Turley was standing with Jennifer. Turley was telling the reporter how he'd found the mammoth.
“All that rain we had this summer really washed along this creek,” he said. “And naturally it washed away a lot of soil.”
Rhodes looked down at the trickle of water that ran along the creek bed. It was hard to believe, now, that earlier in the summer water had been rushing along it at a depth of eight or nine feet.
“Indians camped all along this creek,” Turley said. “Larry and I found arrowheads here a long time ago, like I said.”
The creek had likely looked pretty much the same when the Comanches had lived there a hundred and fifty years ago or more, but Rhodes was sure it had been different when the Clovis people had been there.
Rhodes wondered what Vance thought about Turley's arrowhead hunting. The few archaeologists Rhodes had talked to over the years didn't like to have amateurs picking up arrowheads or pieces of clay pots. They thought things should be left in place for the professionals to find them, even if there were no professionals in the area at the time.
“I figured that maybe the rain had washed up some more arrowheads,” Turley continued. “Clovis points, and some that are a lot newer than that. When it's rained a lot, you never know what you might run across. And I thought maybe if a Bigfoot had walked along the creek, it might have left some footprints.”
Rhodes looked at Vance, who smiled at the Bigfoot reference.
Jennifer kept a straight face. Rhodes didn't know if that was because she was a believer or because she didn't want to upset Turley.
“I asked Larry to come looking with me,” Turley said, “but he didn't want to. Said he had something else to do.”
Jennifer Loam had probably questioned him about Colley during their ride, Rhodes thought, assuming she could be heard over the roar of the wind in the Jeep.
Turley looked off into the distance, as if he might be thinking about Colley and how things would have been different if his friend had come along with him to look for footprints and arrowheads.
“Do you think this creek was here ten thousand years ago?” Rhodes asked Vance, who was already beginning to sweat through his blue dress shirt.
“Not likely,” Vance said. “A lot of this area was under water. We might be standing on the edge of what was once a huge lake. Or there might have been a creek here, just not this one. We can tell more about what was here when we see where the bones are.”
Rhodes glanced down at Vance's feet. The professor was wearing black dress shoes.
Vance noticed where Rhodes was looking and said, “Don't worry about me. I've ruined more than one pair of shoes in my day.”
There was still some mud along the sides of the creek down near the water, but the upper sides of the bank had dried out on both sides. Tall weeds grew along them, and Rhodes thought about mosquitoes and chiggers. He could see the trees of Big Woods about a quarter of a mile away.
“How far from here did you find the tooth?” he asked Turley.
Turley took off his welding cap and wiped the top of his head. “Maybe a little more than fifty yards,” he said as he put the cap
back on. “You know, I didn't really notice the other day, but this land's not even fenced on the other side of the creek.”
Rhodes hadn't noticed, either, but now that Turley mentioned it, he saw that the fence ended at the creek.
“Maybe Bolton thinks the creek is enough of a fence,” he said, and maybe it was.
The banks were steep and the creek was plenty wide, at least fifteen yards wide, maybe twenty. Bolton's cattle wouldn't want to go to the trouble of crossing it, not when there was plenty of grass on their side.
“If the place isn't fenced, Bolton's not gonna have much to say about anybody digging for a mammoth's bones,” Turley said. “I found that tooth on the unfenced side.”
Jennifer Loam swiped her hand at a bug that flew in front of her face. “Why don't we look at where you found it, if we're going to,” she said.
“Sounds like a good idea to me,” Rhodes said. “You lead the way, Bud.”
Turley went down into the ditch beside the road. The weeds reached up to his armpits, and he shoved through them to the creek bank. Jennifer was right behind him, followed by Vance and then by Rhodes.
The ground along the creek was rough, and the weeds didn't make the walking any easier. Bugs swarmed in their faces. Rhodes wasn't sure if he wanted to look for mammoth bones, but he did want to see the location where Turley had found the tooth, so he pushed on.
When they came to the spot they were looking for, Turley stopped and pointed to a chinaberry tree on the other side of the creek. “We'll have to cross over here,” he said.
Rhodes wondered why they hadn't crossed on the bridge and walked along the other side. He didn't ask, however. He just tried to keep his balance as he followed the others down to the trickle of water at the bottom of the creek bed. When they reached it, Turley, Jennifer, and Vance stepped across with no trouble, not seeming to mind that their feet sank into the mud on the other side.
Rhodes minded, but he didn't say so. He stepped over the water and into the mud on the other side. There was a sucking sound when he pulled his foot free. He looked down at the mud on his shoes and thought about the way Turley's shoes had looked when he brought the tooth into the jail.
About halfway up the bank, Turley stopped and peered closely at the ground. He took a couple of steps to his right and said, “This is it. I found that tooth right here.”
“If you don't mind,” Vance said, “I'll have a look around.”
Rhodes understood that what he meant was
If you three amateurs will keep out of my way, I'll see what a professional can find.
“Why don't we go up in the shade,” Rhodes said, and he walked up the bank to stand under the chinaberry tree.
Turley and Jennifer came up and stood beside him while Vance probed in the earth of the bank with his hands.
“Do you think he'll find anything?” Jennifer said.
Her face was red, and a rivulet of sweat ran out of her hair and down her temple.
“If it's on top of the ground, he'll find it,” Rhodes told her.
“There's stuff there,” Turley said. “If there was a tooth, there's bound to be more.”
He was right, and it didn't take long for Vance to prove it. He came up to join them under the tree with a satisfied look on his
face, and in his hand he held another tooth, just as well preserved as the one Turley had found.
“From just my quick look around,” Vance said, “I'd guess the bones are here in a layer of sediment and gravel. Maybe this was the edge of a lake, or a slowdown in some ancient creek like the one that's here now. The rainwater rushing down the creek has washed away a lot of the topsoil, so the bones might not be too hard to find.”
Vance handed the tooth to Rhodes and told him to let the others see it. While Rhodes was examining the fossil, Vance looked at both sides of the bank and said, “I think I could rig up a canopy to shade a dig here, and I can get some of my students to help. And, as I said, maybe there's someone at the high school who'd be interested, too.”
“How soon would you want to get started?” Rhodes asked, handing the tooth to Jennifer.
“As soon as I can. This weekend would be best. Once the fall semester starts, I won't have much time other than on Saturdays. When did you say you were going to talk to Mr. Bolton?”
“I'll do it this afternoon,” Rhodes said.
“Good. Give me a call when you find out something.”
Vance reached into a back pocket and brought out his billfold. He took out a business card and handed it to Rhodes, who put it in his shirt pocket.
“I need to get back to town and write this up for the paper,” Jennifer said, wiping away the sweat on the side of her face.
“I'd like to stay for a while and check things out, if you don't mind,” Vance said.
“I can take you back when you're finished,” Turley said. “I'll help you look.”
“You'll have to be very careful,” Vance told him.
“I will.”
Jennifer looked at Rhodes.
“Well?” she said.
Rhodes managed not to sigh. He knew what was coming as soon as they got in the car.
“You can ride with me,” he said. “Let's take the easy way and cross the creek on the bridge.”
“Good idea,” Jennifer said. “No wonder they keep electing you.”
“I knew there must be a reason,” Rhodes said, and he shoved off through the weeds.
He didn't look back, but he knew that Jennifer was right behind him.
 
 
By the time they arrived at Louetta Kennedy's store, Jennifer Loam had learned almost everything Rhodes knew about Larry Colley's death.
Although she'd gotten all the facts, he'd managed to withhold a couple of his guesses, but that was only because she hadn't had more time with him. She was smart and persistent, and Rhodes had a feeling she wouldn't be staying in Blacklin County for long. As soon as she had a little more experience, she'd be off to Dallas or Houston for a bigger and better-paying job.
“This place looks as if a good strong norther would blow it right over,” Jennifer said when Rhodes parked beside the store in about the same spot he'd used the day before.
“It's probably sturdier than it seems,” Rhodes said.
Jennifer looked skeptical. “I suppose it would have to be if it's still in use.”
“It's been here a long time and withstood a lot of northers. I expect it'll hold up for a little while longer.”
BOOK: A Mammoth Murder
10.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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