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Authors: Bill Crider

A Mammoth Murder (9 page)

BOOK: A Mammoth Murder
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FOR THE FIRST FEW SECONDS RHODES HAD NO IDEA WHAT WAS going on. All he knew was that he'd hit the floor too hard with his head, and he felt as if he were suffocating.
Now someone was trying to beat him to death.
Rhodes tried to fight back, but he was wrapped up in cloth like a mummy and could hardly move his arms. He had a bit more freedom with his legs, and he kicked them as if he were trying to swim. He made contact with something, and the pounding stopped for just a moment, long enough for Rhodes to roll over on his side, but not long enough for him to get free.
He was barely able to loosen his arms before the pounding started again, and he realized that someone was standing over him and kicking him in the ribs and chest and arms and legs. He didn't have long to think about the damage that was being done, because something hit him in the face, just on the point of the chin. His
teeth clicked together, his head snapped back as far as it could in the confined space, and he blacked out.
When he came to, he was still enfolded in cloth and darkness.
At least nobody was kicking him.
Rhodes didn't know how long he'd been unconscious, but he thought it must have been only seconds—no more than a minute, surely. He fought his way out of the wrapping. It was still so dark in the room that he couldn't see what had enfolded him, so he tried to stand up and get to the window.
He got about halfway to his feet before he started to fall again. He put out a hand and caught himself on the end of the bed. Somehow he managed to sit on the bed instead of sinking back to the floor.
He sat there for a while, watching what seemed to be fireflies flit about the room, until the dizzy spell passed. When it did, the fireflies disappeared along with it.
Rhodes gripped his chin with his thumb and forefinger and wiggled it. It was sore, but he decided that it wasn't broken. That was nice to know.
The mummy wrapping was still tangled around his feet, and he kicked it off. He tried standing up again, and this time he was able to stay on his feet. He walked slowly and carefully over to the window and tore off the foil. He blinked in the late-afternoon light, and then he opened the window and breathed in the fresh air.
While he was standing there, he thought he heard the sound of an ATV four-wheeler in the distance, but the sound faded away before he was sure.
After a minute Rhodes turned from the window and looked around the bedroom. It was a mess, as he'd expected. A filthy chenille
bedspread lay tangled on the floor next to a pair of old running shoes. Not so long ago, Rhodes had been wrapped in it.
Whoever had searched the trailer had waited for him in the bedroom, probably not wanting to leave by the front door even while Rhodes was getting the flashlight because of a fear of being seen. There certainly hadn't been much chance of Rhodes seeing anybody while he was wrapped up in the bedspread like a caterpillar in a cocoon and getting kicked around like the ball at a kids' soccer game.
He was bruised all over, and when he rubbed his chin, he thought of Louetta Kennedy. He wondered if she'd been kicked or hit with a fist. Maybe Dr. White could tell him. Rhodes thought that in a way he'd been lucky to be covered with the bedspread. It helped to soften the blows he'd taken.
He didn't think there was much use in having a closer look at the bedroom, but he did it anyway. If he didn't move around a little, he'd stiffen up, and he didn't want that.
Rhodes started with the closet. Pretty much everything except some wire hangers had been tossed out onto the floor, which was covered with dirty socks and another old pair of shoes. He looked in the dresser and the nightstand, but he found nothing of interest. After a while he gave it up and left the room. He'd send Ruth Grady back to do a more thorough job. He'd ask her to check on the whereabouts of Colley's car, too.
Before he left the trailer, Rhodes picked up his flashlight from the coffee table. Lying not far from it was a portable telephone. Rhodes picked it up and called the jail.
Hack answered, and Rhodes told him to have Buddy or Ruth call the telephone company and get Colley's phone records.
“You think he's been talkin' to his killer?” Hack said.
“Maybe,” Rhodes told him. “Any lead is better than what we have now, which is none.”
“You sound funny,” Hack said. “Are you okay?”
“I'm fine,” Rhodes said.
“Well, you don't sound fine.”
“Trust me.”
“Uh-oh. Now I know somethin's wrong. Where are you?”
“I'm at Larry Colley's trailer. Get Ruth on the radio and tell her to come out here.”
“I will. Are you all right?”
“You're repeating yourself,” Rhodes said. “And I'm still fine.”
“You don't sound fine,” Hack said, but Rhodes had hung up the phone before he finished.
Rhodes sat at the table enjoying another low-fat meal, a cold tuna-and-pasta salad. It had black olives in it, and pimientos, along with celery and other things that Rhodes couldn't identify. Yancey kept him entertained by barking around the kitchen while Rhodes tried to downplay his little fracas at Colley's trailer to Ivy.
“I'm sure I'll be a little bruised,” he said, glad that he was being allowed to have a few crackers with the salad. “But it won't be so bad.”
“I'll be the judge of that,” Ivy said. “Do you want some more water?”
There was something pretty spicy in the salad, and the olives were salty. Rhodes said that more water would be nice.
What would have been even nicer was one of Sam Blevins's
steaks, one that was marbled with fat and sizzling from the grill. Rhodes tried not to think about it.
“I just wish you'd be more careful,” Ivy said, taking his glass and putting some more ice in it before she refilled it. “I worry about you all the time.”
“You don't have to worry,” Rhodes said. “I'm fine.”
She looked at him the way Hack had no doubt looked when Rhodes had said the same thing to him. “It might even be different if you were making any progress,” Ivy said. “But you aren't, are you.”
It wasn't a question, but Rhodes answered it anyway.
“Not a lot.”
“You will, though. You always do.”
“I appreciate your confidence. I wish I felt the same way. A lot of things are going on, and they're all connected some way or other, but I can't make the connections that I know are there.”
Rhodes thought about the crime scenes. He knew he'd overlooked something at both of them, but he couldn't figure out what it was.
“You'll feel better about things tomorrow,” Ivy said.
“Stiffer,” Rhodes said. “I'll feel stiffer tomorrow.”
He finished his pasta salad and got up from the table.
“I think I'll go see how Speedo's doing,” he said as he put his plate in the sink. “Come on, Yancey.”
He went to the door and opened it. Yancey bounced out into the yard, charged over to Speedo, and started running in circles around him, yipping with joy. Speedo ignored him and looked at Rhodes as if to say
You're the one who brought this mutt here.
“I know it,” Rhodes said, sitting down on the porch. It didn't hurt as much as he'd thought it might. “Where's your ball?”
Speedo ran off to get it.
The next day didn't bring anything new on the murders, but it brought a lot of other things, none of them good ones.
Ruth Grady searched the trailer and found no more than Rhodes had. She checked the phone records, but the only calls Colley made or got were to or from Gerald Bolton and Bud Turley. Nothing suspicious there.
“And he didn't have a cell phone on him,” Rhodes said. “Hard to believe.”
“Not everybody carries one,” Ruth said. “You don't.”
“I don't count. Check with the local provider and see what you can find out.”
Ruth said that she would.
None of Louetta's regular customers, the few of them that were left and that Rhodes could track down by phone, remembered that she'd ever said anything about threats or that she'd ever had arguments with anyone at all. She was quick to let people have groceries on credit, and she never pressed them to pay up if they couldn't afford it. The general consensus was that everyone liked Louetta. No one would have wanted to hurt her.
Someone had hurt her, however, but Rhodes didn't bother to point that out.
He looked over Dr. White's autopsy report and found nothing he didn't know already. Louetta's neck had been broken when she was struck by whatever it was that struck her. Dr. White didn't say what that might have been, nor did he say that it could have been a kick.
Just as Rhodes finished going over the report, Claudia and Jan arrived at the jail. They were excited to be back in Blacklin
County and excited that they had an actual writing assignment.
“It's only for a little Sunday supplement that goes out to some small-town newspapers,” Claudia said. “But it might lead to other things. Like getting our novel published.”
Claudia didn't look much like a social worker to Rhodes. She was carrying a Dooney and Bourke handbag, for one thing. Rhodes had once considered buying Ivy one as a Christmas gift. Then he'd found out the price.
“You've finished the novel?” Rhodes said.
“Yes. It's a mystery, not a romance novel. We're looking for an agent now.”
“As soon as we heard about the murder here, we called the editor at the weekly,” Jan said. “We got the assignment because of the Bigfoot connection. We'll call the article ‘The Bigfoot Murders!' Can't you just see how that will look in print?”
Jan was shorter than Claudia. She smiled a lot and had plenty of enthusiasm. Since she was a college dean, Rhodes wondered if she knew Tom Vance.
“There's no Bigfoot involved,” he said. “But there's a mammoth. Do you know Dr. Thomas Vance?”
“The one who teaches biology at the community college campus here?”
“That's him,” Rhodes said.
“I've met him. Both our schools have football teams, and he was on the conference athletic committee. He's one of the best in his field.”
“Tell us about the mammoth,” Claudia said, and Rhodes told the little he knew.
“That's another great angle for the story,” Claudia said when he was finished. If we can't have Bigfoot, we can at least have a mammoth.
We can call the article ‘The Mammoth Murder' instead.”
“Vance doesn't want to reveal the location of the dig,” Rhodes said.
He'd called Vance the previous evening to tell him what Bolton had said, and Vance had told him that he'd call Bolton immediately. He wanted to meet Bolton at his lawyer's office and get the waivers as early as he could. He planned to start the dig as soon as he had signed his own copy. He'd get the other people he'd lined up for the dig to sign theirs as quickly as possible, and then he'd get everyone to work.
“We won't tell anybody where it is,” Jan said. “‘Digging up Bones.' There's another great title.”
“I think Randy Travis has already used that one,” Rhodes told her.
“Randy Travis. He's a country singer. It's an old song.”
“Oh. Well, you can't copyright a title, so we can use it if we want to. What do you think, Claudia?”
Claudia said she still preferred the Bigfoot angle. “We can work that into the story right at the beginning,” she said. “And then put in the mammoth, too.”
“You'll be the hero, of course,” Jan told Rhodes.
“I thought this was supposed to be nonfiction,” he said.
“It is. But even nonfiction needs a strong central character.”
“By the way,” Claudia said, “did you know that the motel is full of Bigfoot hunters? We were lucky to get a room.”
“You're kidding me,” Rhodes said. “I hope.”
“We wouldn't do that,” Jan said. “The place was full by the time we got there last evening.”
Rhodes came close to groaning aloud, not because he was still
sore from the kicking he'd gotten the day before, although he was, but because the idea of dozens of Bigfoot hunters tramping through Big Woods was enough to make anybody groan.
“We heard some of them talking,” Claudia said. “They mentioned that they had friends who'd be camping out. There'll probably be hundreds of them.”
BOOK: A Mammoth Murder
3.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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