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
DUKE’S CALLER ID read
, so he picked up after the second ring. The problem was, it wasn’t Kyle.
“Hey, Duke, this is John Marlin. Remember me? The game warden?”
“Yeah, hey, how’s it going? You surprised me there. I thought it was Kyle.”
“Well, I’m calling from his place.”
Yeah, I know that, you tricky son of a bitch.
“Kyle ain’t been poaching again, has he?” Duke said, forcing a laugh. “Damn outlaw is what he is.”
“Nothing like that. I was just talking to him about a few things. And I need to chat with you for a couple minutes, too. Where are you right now?”
“My office, next to the feed store.” Damn! Why had he said that? Since he was on his cell phone, he could’ve lied, said he was out of town or something. He could have bought some time and found out from Kyle what the game warden wanted. He was worried it had something to do with the exotic animals. Maybe one of his hunters had gotten nailed and pointed the finger at him.
“Good. Hang tight, will you? I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, what’s this about?”
No reply. The game warden had already hung up.
Duke gave it five minutes, then called Kyle back.
It rang ten times before Duke finally slammed his cell phone down on his desk.
In his cruiser, Marlin radioed the sheriff’s office for Bobby Garza. He knew the sheriff kept a handheld unit in his office.
After a few seconds, Marlin heard Garza’s voice: “Blanco County to seventy-five-oh-eight. Go ahead.”
“Bobby, I got a line on Duke Waldrip. You want to talk to him?”
Threesomes were always tricky. Not just the lighting and the sound and the camera angles, but, in this case, the personalities. This was the most important scene in
—the climax, so to speak—and Marty didn’t know what to expect. Would Mike Hung, Wanda Ho, and Willie Wang recapture some of the magic from their earlier films? Or would their offscreen tensions put a damper on it all?
Yesterday, Mike Hung had managed to complete his scene with Wanda Ho, but the results were hardly scintillating. Everyone on the crew noticed an obvious sense of uneasiness between the two actors, and it made for some fairly blasé adult entertainment. Certainly not up to the usual Marty Hoffenhauser standards.
On the other hand, being realistic, not every scene could be an award winner. If Marty could just get the three performers to finish off with a flourish, this could still be another moneymaking picture. Marty had given Mike a little pep talk an hour ago, and now he was desperately hoping it would pay off.
“You ready, Mike?” Marty called from behind the camera.
Hung appeared lost in thought and didn’t respond. He was seated at a table on the set, which was supposed to resemble a Chinese restaurant. Wanda Ho was playing a slutty waitress, one who gave her favorite customers a special treat when the restaurant closed for the evening. Meanwhile, she was also a secret agent for the U.S. Treasury, trying to nail the restaurant owner for money laundering. Marty had written it himself.
The script called for Mike to hoist Wanda up onto the table, climb onto a chair, and go at it for seven or eight minutes, changing positions a couple of times. Eventually, Willie Wang would emerge from the kitchen, just a curious cook wanting to get in on the action.
Marty called again: “How ’bout it, Mike? You good to go?”
Hung glanced up and nodded. His expression didn’t give Marty a great deal of confidence.
“All right, then, people. Everybody ready?”
Tony, the sound guy, gave a thumbs-up. Blake, the lighting technician, had the set softly lit.
Marty said, “Let’s roll it!”
The scene began with Mike studying a menu. Wanda entered the frame, holding a pen and pad, ready to take his order.
“Good evening,” she said. “Welcome to Fung Yu.” Big smile. Nice. Looked genuine. “What you have?”
Mike pointed to the menu. “I like pork special,” he said, giving emphasis to the word
just like he was supposed to.
“Ah, velly good choice,” Wanda replied. “You like peanut sauce on side, or … on top?” She raised an eyebrow suggestively. Nice touch.
Mike looked up now, making good eye contact. “Supplise me.”
“Coming right up,” Wanda said.
“I’ll say it is,” Mike replied.
Wanda winked and exited the frame.
Perfect. This was all going well so far.
Mike busied himself with unfolding his napkin and preparing his chopsticks, while Wanda, just off camera, stripped to a bra and panties and grabbed a plate of food. Marty would add a dissolve later to indicate a passage of time.
Wanda walked back onto the set, now in her underwear, and placed the food on the table.
Mike did a good job of appearing surprised by Wanda’s change of wardrobe. Excellent.
Wanda also carried a small metal canister, supposedly filled with soy sauce or something. “You like it hot?” she asked.
“The hotter the better,” Mike said, and swept everything, including the plate, off the table.
Kissing ensued, followed by clothes flying off and the fondling of various body parts. Plenty of passion coming across. Outstanding.
Off came Wanda’s panties—and now they were getting down to it. Oh yes, this was good stuff. Just like the earlier films.
Marty kept the camera rolling even when the actors repositioned themselves. This was great material, and he didn’t want to miss a minute.
A short while later, it was time for Willie Wang to join the fun. He entered the frame wearing a white apron, a chef’s hat, and a big smile. He stood beside Wanda and Mike and said, “Wow, this what I call full-sevvice lestaulant.”
Wanda was supposed to keep Willie entertained with her hands, and she reached out to unzip his fly.
That’s when the action went all wrong.
As soon as Wanda grasped Willie’s belt, Marty heard a guttural moan from Mike. At first, he thought Mike was giving the performance of a lifetime. Then he realized it wasn’t passion, but anger. Mike was staring at Willie, not Wanda, with an expression of pure contempt on his face.
In a flash, the dwarf extricated himself from Wanda and vaulted from the chair onto Willie, getting the startled actor into a headlock.
A boom mike tumbled to the floor.
Marty rushed onto the set, hoping to separate his miniature stars before one of them was seriously injured.
* * *
The feed store’s parking lot was fairly empty now that deer season was over. Marlin had noticed the office space at one end of the building before, but he hadn’t paid much attention to it. There was no sign on the door, no indication whose office it was. He had always assumed it was used by the employees of the feed store.
Marlin and Garza stepped from Marlin’s cruiser and approached the door. Before they could knock, the tall, muscular man Marlin remembered as Duke Waldrip opened the door. The guy was bald, too. Marlin had forgotten that part.
“John, good to see you again. You been doing all right?” Waldrip said, offering a hand.
“Just fine, Duke,” Marlin said.
Duke turned to Garza. “Sheriff Garza, right?”
The men shook hands.
“Y’all come on in,” Waldrip said, retreating into the building.
They followed him through a small reception area and then into a sparsely furnished office in the rear.
“I’d offer y’all some coffee, ’cept the damn coffeemaker quit on me a couple weeks ago.”
“That’s fine,” Garza said.
Waldrip took a seat behind the one desk in the room, and Marlin and Garza sat in two worn chairs facing him.
“Mr. Waldrip, we’ve been trying to contact you,” Garza said.
“Oh, yeah, I know. Sorry ’bout that. I’ve been real busy. I found your notes on my door.” He glanced at Marlin. “You said you wanted to talk about something?”
“Yeah, Duke, I was wondering whether you and Gus—that’s your brother’s name, right?”
Waldrip nodded. “Good memory.”
“Are y’all still doing some guiding around here? Out at Kyle Dawson’s place?”
Duke grabbed a pack of Marlboros off the desk and shook a cigarette free. “Well, there, and in a few other places, some up in Burnet County. Mostly there, though. Why?”
Marlin ignored the question. “You get many out-of-towners?”
“Hell yeah. Almost nothing but. All the boys from around here already have places to hunt, and they damn sure don’t need me.” Duke laughed. He paused to light up. “Most of my customers come from Austin, San Antone, sometimes Dallas.”
Garza said, “I’m curious about something. Does Gus mostly run the operation, or do you?”
Waldrip opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again. After a pause, he said, “Listen, if this is about, you know, my record … and whether I can possess a firearm, I was told it was okay after five years.”
Garza waved him off. “No, that’s not why we’re asking.”
Marlin remained silent, letting Garza decide how to handle it. The sheriff decided to dive right in. “You know a man named Oliver Searcy?”
Duke answered immediately. “Yeah, sure. Guy found dead the other day, right? See, that really floored me, ’cause he called me up a coupla times about wanting to hunt somewhere in the county. He even came to scout the area and dropped by to see me once or twice.”
Garza said, “Which was it—one time or two?”
Waldrip took a deep drag on his cigarette and expelled a large cloud of smoke. “Hell, I cain’t remember for sure. I think twice. Been so busy, it’s hard to keep track. And we only talked for a few minutes.”
“Where did you meet with him?”
“Right here at the office.”
“Was Gus here, too?”
“Gus? Uh-uh. Don’t know where he was, but I remember it was just me and Searcy.”
Marlin said, “Did you ever do any hunting with Searcy?”
“Naw, we couldn’t agree on a price. He was wanting a nice trophy, but he wasn’t quite ready to spring for it.” Waldrip shrugged. “I get guys like that all the time. Tire-kickers. I’m used to it.”
“When was the last time you talked to him?”
Waldrip stared at the ceiling, thinking. “Let’s see … the first time was maybe two or three weeks back. That’s when he came to do some scouting and he dropped by to see me. Then he called again this past Saturday. No, wait, it was Sunday.”
“What did he want?”
Waldrip grinned and tapped some ashes onto the floor. “I think he figured I’d be running some kind of end-of-the-season special. He was trying to Jew me down.”
It had been a long time since Marlin had heard that disgusting little phrase.
Garza said, “Did he ever mention talking to anyone else in the area? Any other guides?”
“Well, they all do. Shop around, I mean. Wondering if maybe one of us guides is a little hungrier than the others. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if that’s what Searcy did.”
“So you never saw the man for more than a few minutes?” Garza asked.
“Nope. Just the phone calls and the meeting. That’s it.”
“He ever come to your house?”
“And Gus never met him?”
“Like I said—no.”
“Where can we reach him?” Garza smiled. “He’s as hard to track down as you are. I’m just thinking maybe he
at that meeting and it slipped your mind.”
Waldrip fidgeted for a second. “You know, there’s—I think I need to be real up front with y’all about my brother.” He placed his palms flat on his desk. “He’s kind of flaky. Got electrocuted a couple years ago, and he ain’t been what you’d call normal ever since. Damn shame, really.” He held his hands up in a what-can-you-do? gesture.
“All the same, we’d like to talk to him,” Garza said.
“Try him at home, then,” Waldrip said. “That’s where you’ll catch him.”
Garza pulled out a small notepad and verified the phone number.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Waldrip said. “If he ain’t there, just leave a message. He’ll get back to you.”
“Y’all have an answering machine?”
“Uh, no, that’s right, we don’t. It broke. Guess you could leave a note for him.”
“We’ve already left several notes.”
“Don’t know what else to tell you. I haven’t talked to him myself for a few days.”
“But y’all live together, right?”
“What? Yeah. Different schedules, that’s all.”
“Tell you what. Why don’t you let me use your cell phone real quick.”
“I’d like to call him on your phone.”
“Yours ain’t working?” Duke asked.
“Been having trouble with my battery.”
Smart move, Bobby,
“Well, yeah, sure.” Duke slid the phone across the desktop to Garza.
Even if the Waldrip brothers knew nothing about the Searcy homicide, they might be avoiding the police on general principles. Duke was an ex-convict, and many ex-cons didn’t like talking to the cops. Maybe Duke and his brother had stopped answering their phone because of Duke’s contact with Searcy, knowing the cops would show up eventually.
answered a call when he thought it was coming from Kyle. If Gus really was at home, maybe he’d answer a call from Duke’s cell phone, assuming he had caller ID.