Authors: Frank Hayes
Death at the Black Bull
“Move over, Walt Longmire. There's a new sheriff in town. Virgil Dalton is the kind of character that comes along maybe once a decadeâa classic Western hero and so much more. When you're done with Frank Hayes's stellar debut,
Death at the Black Bull
, you'll smell the sagebrush in the air and have to clean the dust off your boots. An absolute must-read for fans of Craig Johnson and Tony Hillerman.”
âReed Farrel Coleman, Shamus Awardâwinning author of
The Hollow Girl
“This is one of the most impressive debut crime novels I've ever read. There's such depth and humanity in the characters, such tension in the story itself, and the sense of place is as good as it gets. I know I'll be reading every book in this series!”
âSteve Hamilton, EdgarÂ® Awardâwinning author of
Let It Burn
“Virgil Dalton takes no prisoners in Hayes's satisfying debut novel, and fans of Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire will cheer the sheriff's desire to protect his town. With its strong sense of place, this series launch will also keep fans of Western mysteries enthralled.”
“Hayes's strong debut introduces a complex and likable lawmanÂ .Â .Â . Readers will want to see a lot more of Virgil and friends.”
“Hayes is a skillful storyteller and a deft hand at witty dialogue.”
“Modern with the flavor of the Old West blended in smoothly for a mesmerizing storyÂ .Â .Â . Hang up your hat, prop up your boots, and grab a copy of
Death at the Black Bull
for a rip-roaring good read.”
âThoughts in Progress
“Hayes has created not only a nicely plotted story, but major and minor characters who are truly memorableÂ .Â .Â . All indeed is well done. Highly recommended.”
âI Love a Mystery
“Hayes is a terrific storytellerÂ .Â .Â . The final twist was a real shocker, too!Â .Â .Â . He is definitely an author to watch.”
âEscape with Dollycas into a Good Book
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Frank Hayes
DEATH AT THE
THE HIGH LONESOME
An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
This book is an original publication of Penguin Random House LLC.
Copyright Â© 2015 by Francis X. Hayes.
Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.
BERKLEYÂ® PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME design are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.
For more information, visit
eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-15536-7
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hayes, Frank, 1940â
Death on the high lonesome / Frank Hayes.âBerkley Prime Crime trade paperback edition.
pages ; cm
Berkley Prime Crime trade paperback edition / October 2015
Cover design by Jason Gill.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
To Elizabeth and John Pappas,
who have modeled for all to witness strength of character in the face of adversity during the last two years.
To all who have supported my efforts: Steve Hamilton and Bill Keller who have always kept me on course. A host of family and friends, particularly Sheila and Jerry Hayes, who hosted a great launch party. And last but not least, Ann Godoff, who opened a door and invited me to walk through.
immy Tillman hardly ever went on the interstate. As a deputy sheriff from the town and county of Hayward, it was out of his jurisdiction. It was under state authority, patrolled by state police. However, during nightly patrols, he would pass under it. This night was no exception. He had already done so twice. The nearest interchange was down near Redbud, almost twenty miles away. The law enforcement for that part of the county was covered by Dave Brand and Alex Rankin, who staffed the substation there. Dave was Rosita's husband. She was the glue that kept the sheriff's office in Hayward together. There was talk of adding another interchange, closer to Hayward, if the town kept up its slow but steady growth.
Jimmy had time to think about all of this as he made his nightly rounds. He thought, too, about the unspoken change in his status as recognized by the town council in approving his 24/7 use of the patrol car. He knew this was in no small way due to Virgil Dalton, sheriff, the closest thing to a father Jimmy
ever had. When he was younger, long before he actually reached the rank of deputy, he had often fantasized about Virgil actually being his father. That had lasted until his real father had turned up again, staying around just long enough to give Jimmy a sister, Abby, twelve years younger. Shortly thereafter his mother said Jimmy's father heard the sound of the outward bound. He left in the middle of the night like a bad dream. They'd had no word of him ever since.
It was a little after two in the a.m. when Jimmy pulled into the parking lot in back of the sheriff's office. There had been some talk recently about paving the lot, but at present it was as it had always been. Once a year, usually in the spring, some ItemÂ 4 mixed with some half-inch stone was dumped and spread, so that by now clumps of weed had managed to get a foothold. There was even a small cactus growing by the door. Dif was snoozing at the desk by the radio, but sat up quickly when the door slammed in back of Jimmy. Dif had been a deputy under Virgil's father, Sam Dalton. Now semiretired, he was a part-timer.
“Sorry,” Jimmy said.
“No, jist gotta get some java. You didn't call in. Guess I kinda dozed off.”
“There was nothing to report. Dark and quiet out there. Summer's done, kids are back in school. Guess they won't get crazy till that first home game.”
“Yeah, football frenzy.” Dif poured two coffees and was carrying them to the small yard-sale table that sat against the far wall when Jimmy came out of the bathroom. “There's a couple of doughnuts if you want to grab that box on the desk,” he said.
“No. Just think I'll have my sandwich and a yogurt later when I take a break.”
“Eating healthy these days.”
“Trying to. Don't get much exercise in the cruiser.”
“Yeah. Back in the day we made our rounds on foot. Course we could throw a rock from one end of town to the other. Only went out of town when we actually got a call. Coupla times a week Sam would do the perimeter on horseback. Think he liked it better than the patrol car. Me, never liked horses. They didn't like me, either. Still got a half-moon scar on my ass from that piebald Sam used to ride. Virgil's jist like Sam. He jist fits a horse.”
Jimmy, his mouth filled with sandwich, nodded at different points in Dif's narrative. He was really happy that the town council went along with keeping Dif on part-time. Whenever Dif worked, Jimmy always made it a point to stop back at the office to eat and listen to Dif's stories. He especially liked when Dif talked about the personal stuff. He had seen Virgil many times on horseback, but now he could see Sam Dalton astride, making his rounds. There was something mythic about it, introducing Jimmy to a life, a time, and a place he could only know from the mouths of people who had been around long before he came on the scene. Jimmy didn't realize it, but he had become a student of history.
“Guess I'd better get back on my horse,” Jimmy said as he took a last swallow from his cup. He started to pick up his leavings.
“Let it go, Jimmy. I'll clean upâgot plenty of time. You like all those horses under the hood, don't you?”
“Your first car, got all the bells and whistles and the town pays for it. My first car was a '56 Bel Air Chevy, turquoise and white, best car I ever owned. Bought it secondhand of course. Drove that car everywhere. Across creeks during spring runoff,
out in the desert, even took Edna on our honeymoon in it. Stayed in one of those cabins outside of Kingman up in the Hualapai. We jist about wore each other outâalmost didn't make it to the Grand Canyon. Yeah, had some good times with that car. Then, after I put near two hundred thousand miles on it, I sold it for almost as much as I paid for it to a college kid who wanted to restore it. Turns out it was a classic. Hell, that car is probably still driving around West Texas somewhere.” When Dif paused, Jimmy grabbed his Stetson off the table. He knew he didn't have time for another reverie.
“Well, duty calls, Dif. Gotta get back out there and look for some criminals.” He opened the door. As he stepped through, he heard Dif's last words.
“Take care, Jimmy. Them lawbreakers ain't got a chance with you on the job.”
It was still black as pitch when Jimmy left for his last go-round. No moon, just dark. He thought about what Dif had said about only patrolling the town back when. Times had changed. It was not unusual for him to ring up over two hundred miles on the odometer. This night he decided to make his last run east of town, then north along the saddleback, the high ground on the other side of the interstate, then under the interstate for the last time, and home. He passed by the Black Bull. It was closed, no cars in the lot. He still got a hit of adrenaline when he thought about Buddy Hinton and what had happened to him there. Then he passed the grain silos by the railroad tracks, crossed over the tracks, went by a couple of houses, all but one unlit, and turned north.
When he got up on the saddleback high over the interstate he turned west. He knew even if he could see, there wasn't much to see. The land up here was rough desert interspersed with stands of
piÃ±ons, other conifers, and a lot of rock. Because of the altitude, it did have the payoff on a clear day of an expansive view of the valley.
He rarely took this route. He hit the brake lightly as an armadillo scooted across the road, again a little later for a mule deer. The land rose toward the mountains as he climbed. He rode along the ridgeline for about ten miles. Nothing, no sign of a light in the valley below. He was thinking a person could get swallowed up by the landscape out here.
He banked the cruiser to the left as he started his descent toward the underpass, which was less than a half mile away. For the first time, he saw headlights on the interstate. Truckers, most likely. Twenty minutes from now, he'd be shucking his boots, sitting on the edge of his bed. He braked as he came down the hill, slowing even more as the road started a sharp descent. The windows of the car were down. He could hear the traffic aboveâa couple of semis, he figured.
Emerging from the tunnel, he glimpsed something falling through the night sky. There was a deep, hollow thud. The wheel jumped out of his hand, the car veered to the left. Something crashed into the windshield, spraying him with shards of glass. He got his right hand on the wheel as the car slipped off the hard surface onto the shoulder. Trying to regain control, he yanked the wheel to the right, pulling harder then he should have. The vehicle spun, lurching across the road. He tried the brake to slow the downward momentum, but he was too late. The cruiser leaped off the embankment on the other side. He felt the sudden quiet when the rubber no longer met the road. There was a fleeting moment of expectation, then he heard the ripping of branches as the car carved out its path till it slammed into a tree at the bottom of the ravine. Jimmy's last thought was that he had never known a night as dark as this one.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
High sun managed to find ravines and depressions that a morning sun never could. The searching brightness fell on Jimmy's car. The hood, smashed beyond repair, had just enough flat surface to bounce reflected light through the broken windshield onto Jimmy's face. Jimmy squinted in its glare, then finally opened his eyes. Minutes passed. The light that brought him back to the world moved on. He fought to comprehend. Bits and pieces started to come together. No pain. Discomfort, yes, but no pain. There was a tightness, a cramped feeling, a deflated white balloon in his lap. He tried pushing it off to the side, but his left arm wouldn't work. His right arm was free. It wasn't a balloon, it was an air bag.
An accident. It all came flooding back. Something had fallen on him. What was it? His vision was partially obscured by of all things the branch of a piÃ±on tree. He felt hot. There was also sweat running into his eyes, which he tried to wipe away with his free hand. When he took away his hand, he realized it wasn't sweat. His hand was covered in blood. He looked down on the seat. He saw that it was saturated with crimson. There was a moment of near panic. He looked at the tree limb, then put his hand to the side of his head. He could feel the gash, a slice that ran from the tip of his forehead all the way back across his scalp to the back of his head. He knew that if he wanted to, he could lift the slice like a flap to expose his skull. Blood ran freely from the wound. He knew that scalp wounds bled profusely, but there was a lot of blood. He was literally sitting in a puddle. Hours, he realized, must have passed. How many? He knew he had to act before he passed out from the blood loss or he might never wake up. He couldn't move anything but his right arm. The side of the
car had jammed his left arm tight while his legs were held by the crushed front end. He managed to get a pen out of his shirt pocket. He stabbed at the air bag till he ripped it away. The dashboard was obliterated along with the radio. If he could reach the glove box, he knew his cell phone would be there, but the branch that scalped him blocked his effort. He could feel weakness starting to creep over him.
“No, no,” he said as he attacked the piÃ±on, breaking off the shoots from the main limb. It took time. His fingers were cut by the sharp bark, but he didn't stop. At last he could see an opening. He wasn't able to see the glove box, but reaching across the console with his face buried in the still-attached branches he could feel the glove box. The impact of the crash had popped the door open, a bonus, he thought as he reached in and found his cell phone. The exertion had cost him. He knew he was fading. He punched in the number to the office, holding his breath hoping for service. Then the sweetest sound he ever heard. Rosita's voice.
“Jimmy, where the hell are you?”