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 (11 page)

BOOK: Blanco County 03 - Flat Crazy
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“Mrs. Searcy?”

Marlin and Bobby Garza were standing on the front porch of an expensive home in Bellaire. Marlin noticed that Oliver Searcy’s wife was a pretty woman, maybe in her early thirties, dressed casually in jeans and a pullover top.

“Please call me Susan. You must be Sheriff Garza.”

“Yes, ma’am, and this is John Marlin, the game warden in Blanco County.”

They shook hands all around, and Susan Searcy led them through the house and into a large, expensively furnished living room. They sat in overstuffed armchairs surrounding a mahogany coffee table. Marlin noticed there weren’t any trophy animals mounted in the room. Odd, for an avid hunter like Oliver Searcy.

“Can I get you anything? Coffee?”

Both men declined.

“Well, then…”

“Mrs. Searcy,” Garza said, “first, I’d like to offer my condolences….”

“Thank you. This whole thing, really, it came as a shock.”

“I’m sure it did. And I appreciate your willingness to see us. I’d just like to ask you a couple more questions….”

“I’m not sure what more I can tell you. I’ve already spent so much time with your deputies.”

“Yes, ma’am, and that’s been very helpful. But sometimes we find that additional interviews … they can bring out facts you might’ve forgotten the first time around.”

As Garza spoke, Marlin studied Susan’s face. Her hair was disheveled, her makeup smeared. A widow grieving.

“I’ll do what I can,” she said.

Duke peered through the curtains and saw a man in a sport coat sitting in the gazebo, smoking a cigarette. Susan Searcy’s lover, hiding out. Duke figured the shrub in the middle of the yard shielded the man from the view of anyone looking through the French doors. With the sun setting and the yard getting darker, the man probably wouldn’t notice that the window into Searcy’s office was missing.
As long as the douche bag stays put.

Duke slowly stepped across the room and listened. Three voices now. He placed his ear against the door. The conversation wasn’t as loud as the one earlier, and Duke had a hard time making out the words, but it sounded like they were somewhere in the center of the house.

Duke desperately wanted to hear what they were saying, to see where the cops were going with the case. He decided to take a chance. He gently placed his hand on the doorknob … and turned it slowly. He eased the door open two inches. Peeking through the crack, he could see a long tiled hallway leading toward the center of the house. Now he could hear much better.

With a chill, he recognized the voices of the Blanco County sheriff and game warden.

And one of the first things he heard was his name.

“No, I honestly can’t tell you if he ever mentioned that name,” Susan Searcy said. “Sorry.”

“How about Gus Waldrip?” Garza asked.

Marlin watched her ponder that for a moment. He could tell that the questioning was difficult for her: She seemed anxious, glancing out the French doors occasionally as she gathered her thoughts.

“No, I really don’t think so.”

It was an awkward thirty minutes, Garza leading the conversation as he probed for new information. “Was anyone planning to go with Mr. Searcy when he came to Blanco County?… Did he have more than one cell phone? … Did he ever use yours?… Any enemies? … Any recent troubles at work?”

Susan Searcy had nothing to offer. “As you can tell, Oliver didn’t tell me much about his hunting trips. See, to be honest, I’m not real fond of hunting. I find it cruel and unnecessary. But Oliver’s hunted ever since I met him. I realize it’s a tradition here in Texas, so we agreed to disagree. He never told me much about it.”

Marlin gestured around the room and said, “Now I understand why there aren’t any trophies hanging on the walls.”

“No, he keeps those all in his study. Would you like to see them?”

Garza spoke up: “Actually, we’d like to see all of the things in his study, if you don’t mind.”

“The deputies have been through everything already.”

“Yes, ma’am, but—”

She cut him off by standing. “That’s fine. Follow me.”

Sweet Jesus!

Duke eased the door shut. He knew he didn’t have time to make it out the window.

He heard footsteps coming down the hallway. He gripped the handgun, aiming it at the door, feeling clumsy with his gloved hands.

The steps came closer, now just yards away.

He glanced down at the doorknob and realized it had a lock. He quickly reached down and twisted it, and simultaneously felt a hand grab the other side.

“Oh, I must have locked it last time,” Susan said. “Let me go grab the key.”

Marlin and Garza waited in the hallway.

“We’re really hitting a dead end,” Garza said.

Duke tried to move as quietly as possible. He lifted the deer mount and stepped to the window. He parted the curtains, put one leg out the window … and heard the key in the door.

“You never know where danger is going to come from.” After all these years, Marlin could still remember an instructor at the game warden academy telling that to his class.

But Marlin never expected it to come from a locked room in a quiet suburban home.

He and Garza were both unprepared for what happened next.

Susan Searcy returned with the key, unlocked the door, and swung it open.

Garza stepped through the doorway first.

Marlin was right behind him, still in the hallway, when Garza halted in midstride, his body tensed.

Later, Marlin would remember that Garza had just begun to utter something when the gunshot rang out.

Susan Searcy screamed and fled down the hallway.

Marlin flinched, and his hand instinctively went to his holstered .357.

Bobby Garza came tumbling backward, falling to the floor in the hallway.

Exposing himself momentarily to gunfire, Marlin reached out, looped a hand under Garza’s armpit, and dragged the sheriff out of the doorway.

Garza was clutching his left thigh, his pants already soaked with blood. “Out the window!” he said.

“Call nine one one!” Marlin shouted. He could hear Susan Searcy sobbing somewhere in the house.

Marlin drew his weapon, flicked the safety off, and—in one quick move—dashed to the other side of the doorway, scanning the room. It was empty. A curtain was still gently moving.

He knelt over Garza and prepared to tear the left leg of the sheriff’s pants open. He had to stop the bleeding.

But Garza clamped the leg himself. He was breathing rapidly. “Go! Out the window!”

“Bobby, I’ve got to—”

“Now, John! I’m okay!”

Reluctantly, Marlin moved through Oliver Searcy’s study, stepped over a broken window on the floor, and parted the curtains. He looked left and right but saw nothing. He vaulted through the window … and that’s when he saw a figure in the middle of the yard.

A man in a sport coat.

Marlin dropped to one knee and aimed his handgun. “On the ground! Now.”

The man said, “But I saw a guy—”

“On the ground!”

14
 

DUKE’S HANDS WERE trembling on the steering wheel, sweat running down his forehead. Now he’d fucking done it. Now he was in this thing up to his balls. The question was, how good a look did the cop get? Shit, Duke had barely even got a look at the cop. He was pretty sure it was Sheriff Garza who had come through the door first, rather than the game warden. But had Garza recognized him?
No way.
He had been too quick—
bang
and out the window.

Duke was on Loop 610 now, heading north, wondering why things never seemed to go right.

It was a larger crowd than usual that evening at the Friendly Bar, standing room only, the place buzzing with excitement as the customers waited to see
Hard News Tonight.
Red didn’t want to admit it, but he was excited, too—especially since his interview had gone so well. The television over the bar was tuned to an Austin station, and
Hard News Tonight
was supposed to start in ten minutes.

Red and Billy Don had prime seats at the bar, and Red wasn’t about to leave his for a minute, not even for a trip to the John, where pictures of lingerie models were plastered to the walls. Red always wondered what was hanging in the women’s bathroom, but he had never worked up the nerve to sneak a peek.

After Red had finished his interview with Rudi Villarreal, he’d invited her to be his guest at the bar. He could tell she was intrigued by the idea. Maybe she’d show up. Wasn’t often a woman like her got a shot at a man like him—a real country boy, not one of those city sissies she was probably used to. It might break Billy Don’s heart if Red got to her first, but Billy Don was a big boy. He’d get over it.

And if Rudi didn’t show up tonight, Red had a good scheme brewing—something that would impress the pants right off of her. But he’d probably need Billy Don’s help.

Red leaned over to Billy Don and said, “Hey, you wanna hear a wild idea?”

Billy Don answered immediately. “Not particularly.”

“Damn, Billy Don, why you always gotta be so negative?”

Billy Don exhaled beer breath into Red’s face. “’Cause every bright idea of yours ends up with one of us either in jail or the hospital. That’s why.”

“Not this time,” Red said. “This one’s a beaut.”

He waited for Billy Don to ask what the idea was, but the huge redneck showed no signs of curiosity.

“I’m telling you, Billy Don, this is the best, most wonderfulest idea I ever had.”

No reply. In fact, Billy Don turned and faced in the other direction, watching two guys playing pool.

Red leaned in close, making sure nobody else could hear what he was about to say. His mouth was two inches from Billy Don’s ear. “You and me, bud, we’re gonna catch that chupacabra.”

Billy Don slowly turned to Red. Red thought he saw the signs of actual mental activity on Billy Don’s face, but it was hard to tell. Those occasions were few and far between.

Billy Don started to smile. Then he spoke. He didn’t even say whether he liked the idea or not. He skipped right past that step and went straight to the heart of the matter. “Damn, Red, I can’t believe nobody’s thought of that. We could probably sell the damn thing to a zoo for a million bucks.”

Red’s eyes widened. That hadn’t occurred to him. My God, Billy Don was right! The commercial possibilities were endless! They could set up a sideshow … or rent the animal out to carnivals … or sell it to the highest bidder. There’d be movies and books and calendars, and Red and Billy Don would make a stinking fortune. Until now, Red had figured capturing the chupacabra would be a great way to get laid. But now it was so obvious: The chupacabra was a gold mine waiting to be found.

“Exactly,” Red said. “That’s exactly what I was thinking.”

“Have you fed the dogs yet?” Charlie’s mother asked.

“No, ma’am,” Charlie said. He had just finished rinsing the dishes and loading them into the dishwasher.

“Well, you’d better get to it before your dad gets home.”

He’s not my dad, Charlie wanted to say. He’s my stepdad. There’s a difference. But all he said was, “Yes, ma’am.”

Charlie dumped all the table scraps into a pan. He went into the small utility room and filled the pan to the top with dry dog food, then carried the mixture outside to the kennel.

Ace, the pointer, began to gobble the food as soon as Charlie poured it into his bowl. But Scout, the spaniel, showed no interest. She stood with her nose to the chain link, staring into the darkness.

All week long, Scout had been behaving oddly. She had never been much of a growler, but now, like on other recent nights, a low rumbling came from her chest.

“Scout … hey, girl … come and get it.”

Scout looked in Charlie’s direction and wagged her tail, but then she turned back to face the dark night.

Charlie walked over and stroked her neck.

Scout’s growl turned into a low bark.

Then Charlie saw it. An animal in the distance.

It was standing at the edge of the tree line, fifty yards away. The sun had set, and Charlie couldn’t see the animal well, but it appeared to be a coyote … or maybe another dog.

Now Ace had quit eating and both dogs were growling, the hair on their backs standing up, looking more vicious than Charlie had ever seen them.

Charlie stepped from the kennel and took a few steps toward the animal, whistling. If it was a lost dog, maybe he could help it find its way home.

But the animal turned and vanished into the woods.

After Duke Waldrip parked the Lotus, he was in a taxi within ten minutes. Now he had to make a choice. Somehow, he had to get back to Johnson City, and his options were limited.

He could plant himself outside a convenience store, wait for someone to leave their engine running, and steal a car. But that was risky, and there was the question of what he’d do with the car once he got back home.

He could hitchhike, but that could take forever. Who’d want to pull over on a major highway just to pick up a stranger? Plus, cops all over the area would be on the lookout for the shooter, though he couldn’t imagine they had a decent description.

He could grab a bus. That would work, except some of those bus lines routed you all over creation before they finally made it to your destination—especially a small town like Johnson City or Blanco. He could be on the road for a solid day. And didn’t you have to show an ID to buy a bus ticket nowadays? Probably.

That left one alternative. “Take me to that truck stop west of town,” he told the taxi driver.

“Which one?”

“Aw, hell, I cain’t remember the name. Right there on Two Ninety.”

“The Tasty Skillet?”

“Yeah, that’s it,” Duke said. Any truck stop would do, he figured.

The driver jumped onto Loop 610, drove for several miles, then swung west onto 290, heading out of town. He glanced in the rearview on occasion, but he stayed quiet. Duke discouraged small talk by staring out the window. Thirty minutes later, they were in the huge parking lot of a run-down café, the place packed with eighteen-wheelers. Duke paid the fare and stepped from the taxi, carrying the deer mount with him.

Duke proceeded away from the restaurant, weaving his way through the maze of big rigs. He spotted a group of four truckers standing next to the cab of a big blue Peterbilt. A couple of them were smoking, all of them drinking beer, smiling, listening to a large man in overalls telling a joke.

“… and so the guy says, ‘Mister, I ain’t really a nun. I’m on my way to a costume party and my name’s Bob!’”

Laughter all around, but now all the truckers were studying Duke as he stood ten feet away. He imagined he looked kind of odd, carrying a trophy mount around.

When the chuckles died down, Duke said, “Any of y’all heading through Blanco County?”

None of the men answered.

Duke pulled out his wallet. “I got a hundred bucks for a ride.”

The big son of a bitch in overalls said, “As a matter of fact, I’m driving right through there myself.”

“Damn, Red, I said I’s sorry.”

“That don’t even
begin
to cover it, Billy Don,” Red muttered, driving his truck slowly along the quiet streets of Johnson City. He was adhering to his six-pack rule, which meant that if he’d drunk more than a six-pack, he avoided the highways and kept to the back roads. “How come every damn time I got a brilliant idea, you got to go and screw it up?”

Billy Don pouted. “Wasn’t like nobody else was gonna think of it.”

Back at the bar, the moment Red had finally given in and gone to take a leak, Billy Don had told Bart Norris about Red’s plan to capture the chupacabra. After that, the plan had spread through the crowd like wildfire. Now every damn yokel in the county was going to give it a try.

“Nobody
had
thought of it, you doofus. Not until you opened your big mouth.”

Billy Don turned the radio on. “Yeah, well, they woulda.”

Red knew there was no point in arguing about it. “Would not,” he said.

“Would too,” Billy Don said.

Red let it slide. Even though Billy Don had ruined the plan, Red was even more disappointed that he hadn’t been featured on
Hard News Tonight.
Yeah, there was one shot of the crowd where Red could see himself waving at the camera, but not one second of his interview had made it on the air. And to add insult to perjury, the news babe, Rudi Villarreal, hadn’t ever showed up at the bar. Uppity bitch.

“Would not,” Red said.

“And so the farmer says, ‘Son, that ain’t my daughter. That’s my wife!’”

Duke gave a halfhearted chuckle, but he’d had just about enough. The trucker—Jimmy Earl Smithers—had told stupid stories and corny jokes for five hours straight. Duke could feel the weight of Oliver Searcy’s revolver in his pocket, and he fantasized about popping ol’ Jimmy Earl right between the fucking eyes. Now
that
would be funny. But no, Duke needed to play along, not make any waves. The less memorable he was, the better. And besides, they were now less than five miles from Johnson City.

As they rumbled into the city limits, not another vehicle in sight this late at night, Duke said, “You can just drop me at the traffic light.”

Jimmy Earl nodded and downshifted, bringing the big truck to a stop. “Damn quiet tonight.”

It’s two o’clock in the morning, asshole. What do you expect?
“Yeah, it’s not bad,” Duke said, opening the door.

“You know, I never did catch your name.”

Duke leaned over and extended a hand. “Kyle Dawson.”

“Nice to meet you, Kyle.”

“Thanks for the ride.” Duke jumped from the rig and closed the door.

Jimmy Earl gave a wave, turned left, and chugged down the highway.

Duke stepped to the shoulder and began the long walk to Kyle’s ranch to retrieve his Ford Expedition. Then he froze in place and stared down at his empty hands.

Son of a bitch!

He’d forgotten the deer mount in Jimmy Earl’s truck.

BOOK: Blanco County 03 - Flat Crazy
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