Read Blanco County 03 - Flat Crazy Online

Authors: Ben Rehder

Tags: #Texas, #Murder Mystery, #hunting guide, #chupacabra, #deer hunting, #good old boys, #Carl Hiaasen, #rednecks, #Funny mystery, #game warden, #crime fiction, #southern fiction

Blanco County 03 - Flat Crazy

BOOK: Blanco County 03 - Flat Crazy
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For Martin and JoAnn Grantham
&
In memory of
Ann “Oma” McCroskey

 
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
 

A LOT OF GREAT people provide information that shapes my books, and I want to make sure they realize how helpful they are.

Special thanks to Game Wardens Jim Lindeman and Bobby Fenton (retired), Director of Wildlife Enforcement David Sinclair, Tommy Blackwell (formerly of the Travis County Sheriff’s Office), and Natural Resources Specialist Trey Carpenter.

Thanks also to Martin Grantham (for firearms information), Devon Millard and Jill Rodriguez (health care), Rob Cordes (helicopters), and Angela Lancaster (broadcasting).

A special nod to Phil Hughes for his insight on the Monrovian ground squirrel, Cisco Hobbs for his award-winning pudding recipe, and Tony Turpin for the scoop on computerized dating services.

As always, thanks to Helen Fanick, Mary Summerall, and Becky Rehder for reading early drafts and providing excellent input, and to Stacia Hernstrom for providing an eagle eye in the later stages.

Once again, thanks to Ben Sevier for his deft touches and to Nancy Love for steering me through the maze.

FLAT CRAZY

Copyright © 2004 by Ben Rehder.

Excerpt from Guilt Trip © 2005 by Ben Rehder.

Cover art copyright © 2011 by Becky Rehder

Originally published in hardcover by St. Martin’s Press, August 2004

All rights reserved.

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or, if real, used fictitiously. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission of the author or publisher, except where permitted by law.

Digital book(s) (epub and mobi) produced by: Kimberly A. Hitchens,
[email protected]

1
 

DUKE WALDRIP WAS a damn resourceful hunting guide. In fact, he was so clever, his clients occasionally ended up with trophy deer mounts that weren’t exactly authentic. Of course, the clients were unaware of this fact, but it was always at the back of Duke’s mind that one of them might figure it out.

That’s why he was a little uneasy about the man who was currently sitting in front of him—and there weren’t too many things that made Duke Waldrip uneasy. As Duke liked to say, once you’ve done time in Huntsville, being outside is a walk in the fucking park. Most of the time anyway. Till shit like this came up.

The visitor—Oliver Searcy—had been a customer a few weeks ago, and he had called Duke early this morning, kind of rude, saying, “We have a problem.” Duke had been in the middle of some important business—mounting a new scope on one of his deer rifles—but he put the screwdriver down on his desk and said, “What kind of problem?”

“I’ll tell ya when I get there.” Then, nothing but a dial tone.

Well, shit. Duke didn’t like problems, especially the kind that would make a man drive nearly five hours from Houston. Matter of fact, Duke wasn’t particularly fond of Searcy, either. The dickwad had first called Duke from Houston about a month ago, in the middle of deer season. He said he’d heard Duke was a hell of a guide, and he was in the market for a big buck.

“How big we talkin’?” Duke asked.

“At least one seventy,” Searcy replied. “If you think you can handle it.” He was referring to the standard scoring system for trophy whitetails. One seventy was the minimum to make the Boone & Crockett record books.

“Oh, I can handle it all right,” Duke replied, thinking,
Okay, how am I gonna handle this?
Truth was, there weren’t many deer that big in Blanco County. Sure, there were a handful of free-ranging bucks that scored 140, maybe 150 if you were lucky. But if you wanted one of their big brothers, well, you had to plunk down a lot of cash. Trophy deer like that were usually kept on large game ranches, behind high fences, unmolested by hunters. Those deer were protected like valuable livestock, which was exactly what they were. Many of the ranches were willing to make a commission deal with the guide—but Duke didn’t like to go that route. Why part with most of the money when, with a little creativity, he could keep it all to himself? And that’s what he had done with Searcy. Duke
did
make good on his boast—sort of. The important thing was, Oliver Searcy had gotten his deer and gone away happy. Something had changed, though. Now Searcy was sitting in front of Duke, looking none too happy at all. They were in Duke’s two-room office, right next to the feed store, which was closed today, it being Sunday. Duke was behind the desk, sitting in his big leather chair, and Searcy was in one of the twin chairs in front of him.

So far, Searcy hadn’t said a word, other than giving a gruff “No” to an offer of coffee. Duke smiled and placed his hands flat on the desk in front of him. “Okay, so what’s up?”

Searcy didn’t waste any time. “Last month, you said you could set me up with a trophy deer.”

Duke nodded.

Searcy said, “You acted like it wasn’t a big deal, like you did it all the time.”

“That’s ’cause I do.”

Searcy shook his head. “The thing is, I’ve been hunting all my life, and I know big deer are hard to come by. I asked for the deer of a lifetime, and you acted like you could find it for me”—Searcy snapped his fingers—“just like that. Then you take me to a ranch and—bam!—first time out, I get a buck. It all seemed too easy. Now I know why.”

Duke was sizing the man up, just in case there was trouble. Searcy wasn’t a large man, only about five eight, maybe 160. Nothing compared to Duke’s well-muscled six two. Plus, Duke’s shaved head gave him a particularly menacing appearance. And his voice, full of gravel from twenty years of smoking, was a pretty good tool for intimidation, too. If things got rough, Searcy wouldn’t be a problem.

Duke tried to act confused. “What exactly are you getting at, Mr. Searcy?”

“I’m a radiologist.”

Duke didn’t know what to make of that. “Yeah, so?”

“The deer mount you brought me last week—the ‘outstanding trophy,’ as you put it—it’s a fake. I x-rayed it. Those antlers don’t even go with that skull. They’re bolted on.”

Well now, aren’t you a clever boy?
Duke did his best to appear surprised. He contorted his face into an expression of Academy Award-winning amazement. He stood, walked around the desk, and sat with one butt cheek on the corner, now just a few feet from Searcy. “You gotta be shittin’ me. For real?”

Searcy seemed nervous now, with Duke in such close proximity. He nodded. “Looks pretty realistic. You do good work.”

Duke pointed one hand at his own chest, going for incredulous. “Me? You think I did it? Well, goddamn, I’m shocked, to be honest with you. I—it was probably the taxidermist I took it to.” Not likely. Duke did all the taxidermy himself.

“The taxidermist,” Duke continued, “that’s who we oughta be lookin’ at. They’re experts at that sort of thing. Not me, that’s for sure.” Duke added a little extra head shaking, sort of an I-can’t-believe-you-said-that gesture.

Searcy didn’t buy it. That much was obvious. Especially when he reached under his coat and came out with a revolver. “I don’t care who’s responsible,” he said, “as long as I get my five thousand dollars back.”

Suddenly, Duke’s raspy voice didn’t seem like much of a weapon at all.

If Red O’Brien had known that the wetback he’d hired for the day was going to get hit by a truck, he probably would have insisted on a fatter one, one with a little more burrito on his bones. It might have cushioned the blow a little and the day wouldn’t have turned into such a giant clusterfuck. Hell, a beefier guy might have walked away from it all.

But no, Red’s friend Billy Don Craddock, who spoke the language some, had settled on this skinny little guy named Jorge, who was supposed to be damn good at rock work, and that was the important thing.

To be honest, Red wasn’t all that crazy about using wetback labor, taking work away from genuine Americans. But in this case, as usual, Red couldn’t afford to pay a regular white boy to do the job. It was one of those situations—what do you call it?—a catch-33. He’d wanted to hire a local worker, but they were all too pricey. He
didn’t
want to hire the wetback, but the wetback was affordable. If Red didn’t hire
anybody,
that meant he and Billy Don would have to take care of it all. And that settled that. What the hell. Mexicans were more cut out for that kind of work anyway.

Red and Billy Don had found Jorge early that morning, hanging around with the other illegals in their usual place—behind the Git It & Go convenience store. They’d buy orange juice and sweet rolls, then sit patiently with their backs against the brick wall, waiting for trucks to swing around the store. All those brown faces, none of them speaking hardly a lick of English. For the most part, Red had to admit, they were damn hard workers. They’d pick up manual labor at the rate of sixty bucks per day. Clearing cedar, hauling rocks, digging ditches—hell, they didn’t seem to care what the work was as long as they could earn a few dollars and send it home to Mexico.

The problem was, Red was pretty sure Jorge was hungover as hell, and it worried him. The schedule was tight, and the last thing Red needed was a Mexican who couldn’t pull his weight.

In the truck, heading toward the job site, Red was driving, Billy Don’s three-hundred-pound bulk was on the passenger’s side, and the scrawny wetback was squeezed in the middle. As soon as the doors had closed, Billy Don had begun jabbering away at Jorge in Spanish. To Red, each sentence sounded like one long word. If there were any subjects or verbs hiding out in that mishmash of sounds, Red sure couldn’t find them. Plus, it made him feel left out, like when he’d get picked last for dodgeball back in grade school. So Red was trying to tune Billy Don and Jorge out, concentrating on the day’s schedule, finding it hard to focus with the two of them rattling on.

Worse yet, every time Jorge opened his mouth, Red could smell last night’s stale beer, stronger than bean dip. Then he smelled something even worse.

“Goddamn, which one a y’all cut the cheese?” Red groaned, rolling down the window.

“Jesus,” Billy Don said, “it wasn’t me,” and opened his window, too. “Jorge told me he had
cabrito
last night. Plus a case of Budweiser.”

Jorge just grinned, and Red gave him a frown.

“No comprendo,”
the Mexican said.

“Well, tell him he better be ready for a long day. We got a schedule to keep,” Red said.

Billy Don translated, and Jorge fired a string of words right back, looking Red’s way and smiling.

Billy Don laughed.

“What’d he say?” Red asked.

“I think he said you are a serious man.”

Red snorted. “Damn right I am. Serious as a heart attack.” And then he ignored them both. He had more important things to think about as he eased his old Ford truck and a trailer onto the shoulder of Flat Creek Road. Mr. Owen Pierce—yes,
that
Owen Pierce, owner of the most popular chain of barbecue joints in Texas—wanted the stone entrance to his ranch rebuilt, and he wanted it done
now.
He had some sort of party coming up this weekend, lots of bigwigs coming out, and Mrs. Pierce had decided just last night that the entrance wasn’t quite up to par, thank you. “Kind of a last-minute thing,” Mr. Pierce had said on the phone. “Think you can help me out?” Hell yes, Red could help out, for what the guy was willing to pay.

Red cut the engine, stepped out of the truck, and surveyed the elaborate limestone rock work on either side of the road leading into the ranch. Red didn’t think it looked too bad. Sure, the concrete between the stones was crumbling in a few places, and there was a buildup of green mildew here and there. Nothing a little mortar mix and a few squirts of Clorox wouldn’t fix. But Mr. Pierce wanted the whole thing torn down and reconstructed. In three days. “And let’s make it granite this time,” Pierce had said. “Mrs. Pierce likes the look of granite.”

“Well, we’re burning daylight,” Red said. He gestured at Jorge. “Amigo, grab the jackhammer out of the truck and let’s get busy.”

Jorge stared back with bloodshot eyes.

“You know … ratatatat,” Red said, making a jackhammering gesture with his hands.

The Mexican didn’t budge.

Billy Don said a few words in Spanish, and that did the trick. Jorge grabbed the hundred-pound jackhammer, which weighed nearly as much as he did, and hefted it out of the truck like it was a toy.

Maybe he’ll work out okay after all,
Red thought.

But then the Mexican laid the jackhammer on the ground and leaned against the truck, moaning. Now he was bent over, grimacing, rambling on in Spanish.

Red removed his Dallas Cowboys cap with one hand and scratched his scalp with the other. “All right, what the hell’s wrong with him?”

“Our boy says his stomach don’t feel so good,” Billy Don said. “Must be the
cabrito.”

“Yeah, that or the damn case of beer,” Red said. “You picked a real winner for us this time, Billy Don. You ever try to run a jackhammer after drinking all night?”

Billy Don shrugged.

Red and Billy Don watched as Jorge suddenly turned and scurried onto the ranch, tugging at his belt buckle, disappearing into some cedar trees.

“Well, hell’s bells,” Red said. “You found us a wetback with the runs.”

Billy Don chuckled, then quit when Red glared at him. “Aw, give him a minute. He’ll be fine. Just don’t shake hands with him.”

Red wasn’t in the mood for jokes. “Well, let’s quit wasting time. Gimme a hand with the generator.”

The men pulled the generator out of the truck and carried it over to the stone ranch entrance. As soon as they had the generator running, they’d have juice for the jackhammer and they could tear this whole thing down in a matter of hours. The best thing was, Red could save the limestone and use it again on another job. Not only that, Mr. Pierce was
paying
Red to haul the rock away. Red was making money coming and going. Sweet deal. Now, if only the wetback would finish his business and get to work.

Red figured he’d have Jorge operate the jackhammer, the really hard work, while he and Billy Don used wheelbarrows to move the rock to the trailer. When they were ready to rebuild with the granite, he and Billy Don would have to provide the muscle, because Jorge had the masonry skills. Supposedly, anyway. That remained to be seen.

Red opened the choke on the generator and was just about to pull the starter cord when Billy Don said, “Here comes our granite.”

Several hundred yards down the road, a loaded flatbed was slowly rumbling in their direction.
At least they’re here on time,
Red thought. He yanked the starter cord and—in the instant right before the generator roared to life—there was a scream from the woods.

Red raised his head, puzzled, and locked eyes with Billy Don, who was mouthing something to him. The noise from the generator was too loud, but Red didn’t need to read lips to know that Billy Don had said, “Did you hear that?”

BOOK: Blanco County 03 - Flat Crazy
7.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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