Authors: Patrick F. McManus
Also by Patrick F. McManus
The Bear in the Attic
The Deer on a Bicycle
Kid Camping from Aaaaiii! to Zip
Never Cry “Arp!”
Into the Twilight, Endlessly Grousing
How I Got This Way
The Good Samaritan Strikes Again
Real Ponies Don't Go Oink!
The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw
Rubber Legs and White Tail-Hairs
The Grasshopper Trap
Never Sniff a Gift Fish
They Shoot Canoes, Don't They
A Fine and Pleasant Misery
SIMON & SCHUSTER
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright Â© 2006 by Patrick F. McManus All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
SIMON & SCHUSTER and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Book design by Ellen R. Sasahara
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
McManus, Patrick F.
The Blight way / Patrick F. McManus.
1. Rocky MountainsâFiction. 2. Outdoor lifeâFiction.
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After happily noting that the mud puddles of the parking lot had frozen over during the night, Blight County Sheriff Bo Tully momentarily regretted having established the departmental policy that neither he nor any of his deputies could use obscenities while on duty. Otherwise, he would have uttered a four-letter one at the sight of Jan Whittle. She was frowning at him from the back doorway of the courthouse, hands on hips. Tully decided that his stomping a few puddles on the way into the courthouse would not please Jan Whittle. Stomping frozen mud puddles was one of his great satisfactions.
He pulled his Explorer into the sheriff's reserved parking spot and got out. Jan rushed him the second his feet hit the ground.
“About time you showed up,” she snapped. “I'm almost late for school.”
She was principal of Delmore Blight Grade School.
Tall and thin, with rather sharp features, Jan seemed to be a person in a permanent rush.
“Sorry,” he said. “If I'd known you were waiting for me, I'd have gotten here earlier.”
“Oh, sure,” she said. “Listen, I want you to go after that Cliff boy right now. He's been off in the Hoodoo Mountains for six weeks!” Jan had the annoying habit of focusing her entire attention on the person under interrogation, probably something she had learned in her years as a teacher.
“No way,” Tully said. “I chased that brat all over two mountain ranges last year, and I'm not doing it again. Besides, it'll snow up there soon. He'll get sick of that quick enough.”
“He'll get sick of that! Glen is only twelve years old!”
The boy, Glen Cliff, simply didn't like school. To his credit, he would try it for a couple weeks each September, see that he didn't like it any better than the year before, then take off for the mountains. Bo Tully hadn't been much different himself, as far as school was concerned.
“Listen, Jan, I'll see what I can do. I've got murders to solve and stuff like that, but if I get a break in my schedule, I'll go up and have a look for the kid, okay?”
“Murders to solve! Don't make me laugh!”
Jan Whittle didn't seem to be in much danger of laughing. She spun on her heel and stomped over to her car, smashing the ice on several puddles as she went. She needed to work on her technique some, Tully mused, no doubt about that.
Tully wondered if she remembered that when they
were both in sixth grade she had been his girlfriend for a while. It was possible, he supposed, that she hadn't realized she was his girlfriend, since they had never even talked. But that's how love affairs in sixth grade had been back then. Her dark brown hair had streaks of gray in it now, but she had aged nicely, keeping herself trim and fit. Too bad she was still married to Darrel Whittle, the oaf of a city attorney. Otherwise, he wouldn't mind dating her again. Maybe this time they would even talk.
Before entering the courthouse, Tully checked his image in the glass door. He turned to check his side profile. Perfect. Sticking to Atkins for two months had stripped twenty pounds off his six-foot-two frame. Feeling instantly energetic, he ran up the marble stairs that led to the main floor.
The Sheriff's Department occupied a large suite of rooms in the rear of the building, with the jail directly beneath. A hallway stretched the length of the building, with a couple dozen watercolors displayed on the walls. For once, Tully approved of the paintings. They were good. Clearly the artist was a person of considerable talent.
As he entered the office, he was amazed to see that both the night shift and day shift had managed to leave one medium-dry doughnut on the tray next to the stainless steel coffee pumps. Probably because it had been dropped on the floor. Tully took his Picasso clown mug off its hook and pumped the decaf. It sputtered and fizzed out half a clown's worth.
He sipped the lukewarm coffee and munched the doughnut as he strolled through the briefing room. Tully
thought the walls had been painted puce. He didn't know what color puce was, but it had the right sound. His undersheriff, Herb Eliot, gave him a nod from the doorway of his own cubicle and went back to his newspaper. The Blight County Sheriff's Crime Scene Investigation Unit was hunched over his computer. Byron Proctor solved more crimes with his computer than did the rest of the department put together. Tully figured that hiring the kid had raised the average IQ of the department by at least ten points. Byron had short brown hair, most of which seemed engaged in an effort to stand straight up. He wore rimless glasses half an inch thick perched on an overly large nose. He had both the posture and complexion of a clam. He was twenty-seven years old and, as far as Tully was concerned, a genius. He had several visible tattoos. He might also have had body piercings, but Tully didn't want to hear about those.
“Hey, Lurch!” Tully yelled at him across the room.
Byron looked up from his computer and grinned his snaggletoothed grin. “Hey, Sheriff!”
Tully had given Byron his nickname, Lurch. He was the kid's hero.
At forty-two, Tully's thick brown hair was already going gray. So was his thick brown mustache. The mustache drooped crookedly over one corner of his mouth, possibly a result of his tugging on it whenever he had to do some hard thinking. His nose had been struck more than once with a hard object, fortunately so, in Tully's opinion, for otherwise he might have been far too good looking.
“Morning, Sheriff,” Daisy Quinn said, perkily. With
short black hair and brown eyes, she was small and compact and gave off an aura of pure efficiency. She wore a white blouse beneath an open gray vest and a tiny black skirt. “Your mom called. Said to remind you again to get a haircut. She's tired of you going about âpractically looking like a hippy.' Her words.”
“Yeah yeah,” Tully said. He treated Daisy to a quick grin. He was pretty sure Daisy was in love with him. Then, what woman wouldn't be? Well, sure, Jan Whittle. Can't please everyone.
As he entered the door of his glassed-in office, he noticed that a fly had paused on the window behind his desk. It was a good fly. Not a great fly by any means but still a good one. Apparently engrossed in the view of Lake Blight, the fly failed to detect the sheriff's approach. Tully picked up the swatter from his desk, whopped the fly, flipped the swatter over and caught the tiny corpse in mid-fall.