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
Rusk repeated his question, and Herzog glanced up. “Seen what?”
“The prelim report on the red-necked sapsucker.”
Herzog tossed the magazine aside. Cheek implants? The very idea. He was a devastatingly handsome man as is, even if he was approaching fifty. “The red-necked…?”
“What about it?”
“They want to move it from endangered to threatened, but they need more funds to continue the study.”
Screw the sapsucker,
Herzog was about to say, but right then Susan buzzed in on the intercom.
“Senator Herzog, there’s a call for you on line one,” his executive assistant said, sounding somewhat less chipper than normal. Herzog frowned at the phone. He had asked her to hold all calls unless it was important. And for God’s sake, he’d told her, don’t put the wife through.
“Who is it?” he snapped, running a hand through his hundred-dollar haircut.
“Well … he didn’t say.”
“Didn’t I tell you—”
“You need to take this one, Dyl.”
Herzog shot a quick look at Rusk, thinking:
Jesus, how many times have I told her not to call me that in the office?
He lifted the phone from its cradle.
She whispered: “Sorry about that, but it’s some guy … he didn’t give his name. He says he has photos—”
“Aw, Christ,” Herzog said, wondering why she would interrupt with a call from a person he didn’t even know. And why was she whispering? “Just take a message, Susan, and tell him—”
“Of us!” she hissed. “He says he has photos of us.”
And just like that, everything changed.
Herzog sat up straight. His forehead suddenly felt like a furnace. A million invisible pins pricked at his scalp. The hair on his neck would have stood on end if it hadn’t been meticulously trimmed with a GroomMaster Deluxe. He tried to smile at Rusk, who was looking more curious by the minute.
the aide mouthed. Herzog nodded.
“I wasn’t going to put him through,” Susan said gingerly, “but when he said that, well…”
Herzog stared down at the red blinking light on the phone’s base. The caller was waiting patiently. “What were his exact words?”
“He said he’d been watching us … and he has photos. He sounds pretty creepy, Dyl.”
“Okaaay,” he said, drawing the word out, giving himself time to think. But it most definitely was not okay. He covered the mouthpiece. “Can you give me a few minutes, Ken?” Rusk gave him a questioning look, but nodded and left the office.
Herzog took a deep breath, then pushed the red button and mustered up as much bravado as possible. “Who the hell is this?”
There was a moment of silence, then a harsh backwoods twang: “Mind you damn manners, Herzog, or every newspaper in the state’s gonna know you cain’t keep your pecker in your pants.”
Play it tough—that’s what his instincts told him. Herzog had dealt with his share of blowhard rednecks before, and they usually backed down when he got firm with them. Besides, the caller might be bluffing. “I don’t know if this is a sick joke or what,” he said, “but if you think—”
“Have you checked your mail this morning?”
“No, I haven’t, but I have no intention—”
“Just shut the hell up and check with your secretary. She seems to take care of all kinds of little things for you, know what I mean?” There was a taunting quality to the caller’s voice.
With one hand, Herzog began to rummage through his overflowing inbox. “You leave her out of this,” he demanded. “My relationship with Miss Hammond is purely professional.” He meant to issue the words in a bark of indignity, but they came out in a frantic squeak.
“‘Purely professional,’” the caller mocked. “I wish I had me a setup like that. Now you just find them photos and we’ll all see how professional it really is. I sent you a little care package on Wednesday. Would’ve been in yesterday’s mail, today’s at the latest.”
And it was. Herzog found it buried in the middle of the pile: a plain manila envelope, Herzog’s name and address in block letters, with the word
below that. The return address said
Why did that name sound familiar? “I’ve … I’ve got it right here,” Herzog said.
“Well, hell, boy, don’t be bashful. Take a look.”
Herzog swallowed hard, tore the envelope open, then braced himself and pulled the contents out.
Oh my God.
He felt an iron fist grasp his balls and squeeze. Sweat was beginning to trickle from every perfectly exfoliated pore.
The photos were grainy and of poor quality, but they did the job. They had been taken through the rear windows into the living room. His stomach went queasy. Someone had been spying on them from Susan’s backyard!
The first shot wasn’t too troublesome—just him and Susan kissing, fully clothed. He even remembered the night, Friday of last week, when his wife was out of town.
Herzog flipped to the second shot and a wave of nausea churned in his abdomen. Much more incriminating. Now they were undressing—Herzog unbuckling his belt, Susan with her blouse off, her skirt at her feet. The important question was, how long had the photographer hung around? Was the last shot worse than the first two? After all, Herzog had certain, well, “predilections” that the average constituent simply would not fully understand. He might be able to survive a run-of-the-mill infidelity scandal, but if these photos ventured into—
His thoughts were interrupted.
“That gal’s sure got some nice titties,” the caller said. “Them store-bought or what?”
Herzog couldn’t answer. He was beginning to hyperventilate. Everything depended on the third shot, and he couldn’t bring himself to look. His hands were trembling and his eyes had watered up. Why was this happening? He played golf with all the right people, greased all the right palms, followed the code of the modern-day politico. For God’s sake, he was supposed to be governor some day! “Who are you?” he managed to mumble. “Why are you doing this?”
“We’ll get to that. But first, have you seen ’em all yet? That last one’s a beaut.”
Herzog summoned up his courage, what little was left, and flipped to the final photograph. He almost passed out at his desk. A bolt of pain stabbed from temple to temple.
The shot was from later in the evening, after they’d both had plenty to drink. Susan was wearing her black leather outfit—corset, thigh-high boots, and a G-string. A riding crop completed the fetching ensemble. But that wasn’t the worst part. Not by any stretch of the imagination. What Herzog was wearing made the photo an unmitigated disaster.
Dylan Albert Herzog—the distinguished representative of Senate District 32, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee—was now on foreign soil. Rather than being the one in power, the one who commanded others to jump through hoops, he was at the mercy of a stranger at the end of a phone line. It was his worst nightmare. “What … what do you want?” he chirped.
“Oh, I see I’ve got your attention now. Okay, listen up.” The caller’s tone had gone from chiding to militant. He spat each word out like curdled milk. “I’m sick of laws that favor the rich folks and screw small landowners like me. I’m sick of the government meddling where it don’t belong. I’m sick of letting a bunch of dirtbags screw me out of a dollar every chance they get. And it makes me sick when I know the chief dirtbag”—here there was a diabolical cackle—“is a guy who likes to wear a friggin’ diaper.”
Herzog pulled his trashcan from under his desk and neatly launched his breakfast.
Now he got the joke.
“What do you want?” the senator croaked, with much more sincerity this time.
Late Sunday afternoon. Annie and Horace Norris, retirees who proudly hailed from Madison, Wisconsin, had just left the Snake Farm & Indian Artifact Showplace (an attraction they had found rather odd, to be honest), when they spotted the drunk driver.
“No doubt about it, the guy’s smashed,” Horace growled, stooped over the wheel of his Winnebago, heading north on Highway 281 toward Johnson City, Texas. “A regular menace, that’s what he is.”
“Oh, dear,” replied Annie, his wife of forty-six years.
Horace didn’t like it. No sir, he didn’t like it one bit. It was hard enough to maneuver his RV in a safe and prudent manner under ordinary circumstances, but when you had to share the road with a drunk driver, well, that was entirely unacceptable. He hadn’t survived four decades in the dog-eat-dog world of actuarial analysis to be killed by some hotshot in a flashy red Corvette. Looked brand-new, judging by the temporary dealer plate in the rear window.
“This fruitcake is all over the road,” Horace grumbled. And the sports car was, too—floating from lane to lane, forty yards ahead of the Winnebago’s massive front grille. He glanced down at his speedometer, which was sitting on
. A measly thirty miles per hour. Horace couldn’t believe it. Not only was this joker weaving, he was doing it at roughly the same velocity at which Horace could break wind.
Horace had seen enough.
“Climb back there and grab the video camera,” he said. “I wanna get some tape of this guy.”
Annie was perplexed. “Why … what for?”
“To show to the cops!” Horace barked. “I’ll flag one down if I have to. Show him what kind of lunatics are using the roads nowadays. Evidence, that’s what for!”
Annie unbuckled (she never sat in the front seat without buckling up), and as she made her way toward the rear of the vehicle, Horace continued to rant. “In all my sixty-six years,” Horace proclaimed, “I’ve never seen a guy drive like this. But come to Texas and what do we get? A friggin’ demolition derby. Well, we may not be Texas taxpayers, but we pay our federal taxes, for Chrissakes. And since this is a U.S. highway, we got our rights! We have a right to be safe on our freeway system!”
“Oh, dear,” Annie murmured again, opening a storage compartment above the Formica-topped dinette.
Horace was good and angry, boiling really, now a mere twenty yards behind the Corvette, breaking his own strict tailgating rule. He wanted the driver to notice him back here and know that his appalling behavior wasn’t going unobserved. “What we'll do—you find that camera yet?—what we’ll do is stop at a pay phone and report this nutcase. Show him what’s what, this guy. And when the cops pull him over, we’ll—”
Horace’s train of thought was interrupted by movement in the Corvette. Until then, Horace had seen only one occupant in the car. But now a woman’s head popped up—
from the driver’s lap—
and she returned to her place on the passenger’s side. She appeared to dab her lips with a tissue and then buckle her seatbelt.
Horace couldn’t believe his eyes. The man driving the Corvette wasn’t drunk at all. No, sir. Horace knew exactly what was going on. Hanky panky! On the open highway! Right in front of Annie, for God’s sake!
Horace was shocked. He was outraged. He was envious.
The driver, finally glancing in the rearview, gave a small wave to Horace out the window, then goosed the vehicle up to highway speed, leaving the Winnebago behind.
Horace could only watch it disappear on the horizon.
“Here’s the camera,” Annie said, returning to her seat and buckling in. She glanced out the windshield. “Wha—where did he go?” She looked over at her husband. “Horace?”
“Never mind,” Horace mumbled.
The Complete Series of Blanco County Mysteries.
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