Read Stillborn Armadillos (John Lee Quarrels Book 1) Online
Authors: Nick Russell
By Nick Russell
Copyright 2016 © By Nick Russell
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing by the publisher.
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Boulder City, NV 89005
Also By Nick Russell
Big Lake Mystery Series
Big Lake Lynching
Crazy Days In Big Lake
Big Lake Blizzard
Big Lake Scandal
Big Lake Burning
Big Lake Honeymoon
Big Lake Reckoning
Big Lake Brewpub
Big Lake Abduction
Dog's Run Series
Return To Dog's Run
John Lee Quarrels Series
Standalone Mystery Novels
Highway History and Back Road Mystery
Highway History and Back Road Mystery II
Meandering Down The Highway; A Year On The Road With Fulltime RVers
The Frugal RVer
Work Your Way Across The USA; You Can Travel And Earn A Living Too!
The Gun Shop Manual
Keep up with Nick Russell’s latest books at
While some communities named in this book do exist, Somerton County and all
persons in this book live only in the author’s imagination. Any resemblance in this story
to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
John Lee hated working the construction zone. Sitting in one spot with his roof lights flashing to warn traffic was boring duty, and it didn't help that the most the feeble air conditioner in the old Caprice could do was to put out a weak flow of air that was only a few degrees cooler than it would have been standing in the shade. With the fan going full blast he was still sweating in the hot, muggy afternoon.
But he had to admit the overtime would come in handy. And from where he sat, Rita Sue Baker did look good standing beside the road in those short shorts. He just wished she would stay there and not come over to talk so much.
Every time Rita Sue rotated her sign around from Stop to Slow and started waving the traffic through the construction site, as soon as the cars started moving she came back to John Lee's patrol car and leaned in the window to talk to him. This offered him a very nice view down her loose fitting blouse, but it also brought him too close to the proximity of her rancid mouth. John Lee wasn't sure if it was because of the rotten teeth, the odor of last night's alcohol, or the cigarettes she smoked one after another. Maybe it was a combination of all three, but whatever it was, it was enough to gag a maggot. He found himself leaning further and further away as Rita Sue talked about some country singer she just adored, told him how lonely she got sometimes at night, what with her boyfriend Randy halfway through serving 90 days on his latest DUI conviction, and how she couldn't decide if she wanted to get a tattoo of a unicorn or a dolphin on her right boob. The loose blouse had made it possible for him to know that a tattoo of Mickey Mouse already adorned the left one.
"What do you think, John Lee?"
She reached in the window and poked him on the shoulder. "You in there, John Lee?"
"Oh, sorry, I was thinking about something."
Rita Sue smiled her jagged smile, which was not a pretty sight, and brushed her damp, lank hair from her face as she said, "I just bet you were. Ya know, we shut down here at six, in case you'd like to do more than just think about it."
He was trying to figure out some relatively polite way to tell her that of all the things he had ever thought about, going home with her was six feet below the bottom of the list. But before he could answer, Roy Ballard's shouts caught his attention.
"John Lee, you better get over here."
He started to open the car's door and Rita Sue stepped back just enough for him to get out, but not far enough that he didn't have to brush his body against hers in the process. She made it a point to press herself against him as he did. That close to her, he realized that her oral hygiene wasn't the woman's only shortcoming.
"So whadda you say? Six o'clock?"
Before he could answer, Roy rescued him with a sharp whistle and waved. John Lee left Rita Sue at the police car and walked to where Roy and two other men stood staring at something in the red dirt that the grader had uncovered.
"Looks like we found us a dead guy," Roy told him.
John Lee looked down into the trench and realized that there might be worse things than Rita Sue to see on this hot Florida afternoon.
"So tell me again, where did you find these bones?"
"The road grader turned them up out on Turpentine Highway. Roy Ballard thinks it might be an old Indian from a hundred years ago."
Peter Dawson, the irascible retired doctor who served as Somerton County's coroner, used a brush to clean dirt from the skull and asked, "When did Roy Ballard go to medical school?"
"He didn't, Doc."
"That's right, he didn't. Roy might know all kinds'a stuff about running heavy equipment and overseeing construction projects, but he don't know diddly squat about much else. He's not a doctor, and he's not an archaeologist, either. These bones are too new to belong to an Indian."
"How do you know that?"
"How the hell do I know that? Maybe because I spent 50 years patching people together and have seen every kind of body there is, alive and dead. Do you suppose that might have something to do with it?"
"Yeah," John Lee said. "I imagine so."
"I'll tell you two other things," Doc Dawson said. "Besides not being an old Indian, this fellow here didn't die of natural causes."
"What do you mean?"
Doc held up the skull and said, "Look what I found under all the dirt."
He pointed to a round hole in the rear of the skull.
"Is that what I think it is?"
"How the hell do I know what you're thinking? But if you're thinking it's a bullet hole, then you're right."
"Someone shot this guy in the back of the head?"
"Well, unless he had really long arms it would be kinda hard for him to reach around to do that himself."
"Okay, you said two things. What's the other thing?"
"Do you see this here? That there is the femur, it's the longest and largest bone in the human body."
Doc laid another bone beside it and said, "This is the other femur. Now you tell me, what's wrong with this picture, John Lee?"
The deputy stared at the bones and shook his head. "I don't know. I didn't go to medical school, either."
"You don't have to have gone to medical school to see that one of these is almost four inches shorter than the other," Doc said.
"So then what does that mean?"
"It means one of two things. Either this fellow really leaned to one side when he was walking down the road, or else Roy Ballard found himself more than one dead person out there."
"Well damn, John Lee, you went and opened a can of worms this time around didn't ya? It's always somethin' with you, ain't it?"
Flag Newton scowled at him like John Lee himself had shot whoever the poor souls were that Roy Ballard had discovered. A big man with a shaved head and a walrus mustache, Somerton County's Chief Deputy found most things in life aggravating. Especially if they required him to leave his air-conditioned office at the courthouse and venture out into the world.
"What can I say, Fig? It was a slow afternoon."
Flag shot him a dirty look. He didn't like it when people referred to him by his nickname, and he particularly didn't like it when John Lee did it. Of course, there wasn't much about John Lee that he did like.
"I think we should call in the State Crime Lab. This is more than we normally deal with."
"We don't need to be callin' in nobody from Tallahassee," Flag said. "There ain't nothin' they can do that we can't do ourselves."
John Lee wanted to argue with him, to tell him that they had never had something like this before, what with the discovery of two dead bodies at once, but before he could, Bob Patterson, down in the trench, upped the ante.
"Son of a bitch, this one makes three," Bob said, laying his shovel aside and holding up another skull.
John Lee squatted down and took it from him and brushed away the dirt clinging to the bone.
"That one shot, too?"
"Yep. Same place, back of the head."
"Damn! What have you got us into, John Lee? A goddamn serial killer or somethin'?"
"It's something, Fig, but I don't know what."
"Could it be an old unmarked graveyard?"
Flag turned to the red haired deputy standing with them, a chunky young man with peach fuzz on his upper lip who had not yet outgrown his teenage acne, and said, "Jesus H Christ on a crutch, that's what it is, Red! What we got here is a special cemetery just for people who got themselves shot in the back of the head. Now why'n the hell didn't I think of that before?"
Greg Carson's face colored. "I guess that was kind of a dumb question, huh?"
"Ya think? Damn, boy. If all you're gonna do is stand here and take up space, why don't you get down there and give Patterson a break."
The young deputy nodded and crawled down into the trench that had slowly been enlarged as they excavated the crime scene.
"Give him a break, Fig. The kid's trying."
Flag turned his head and spat tobacco juice at Carson's patrol car, hitting the hubcap dead center with a splat. He looked back at John Lee and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Why you gotta take on the losers and misfits all the time, John Lee?"
Shrugging his shoulders, John Lee replied, "Maybe because when I came on I was one of the losers and misfits?"
? Shit, son. What makes you think you still ain't? Just because you married my niece don't mean squat to me. And I'll tell you what. When D.W. finds out you're bangin' both his daughters you might wish your bones was down there in that ditch, too."
As if on cue, a siren bleeped and they turned to see a white Chevrolet Tahoe pull up
Sheriff D.W. Swindle climbed out and lumbered up to them. In spite of the early hour it was already hot, and dark stains were visible in the armpits of the khaki uniform shirt which was stretched tight across his large belly. He pulled a blue bandanna from his back pocket and mopped his face.
"Morning, D.W. Hot enough for you?"
"Hottern' a two dollar pistol. Damned inconsiderate of you to uncover this mess this time a year."
John Lee was tempted to tell him that it wasn't like he set out to find three murder victims the previous day, but the less he talked to his father-in-law, the better.
The D.W. stood for Daniel Webster because his mother had wanted him to be a man of words. Unfortunately, most of the words he uttered were hard to understand due to the chaw of tobacco in his mouth. And those you could understand were likely to have been profane except for the fact that D.W. had toned them down after he got religion at a camp revival meeting following his heart attack the year before.
The religion had not lasted long once he was back on his feet, but when he was at his most vulnerable he had made the man upstairs a promise that he would never swear or smoke cigars again. D.W. didn't think it was wise to renege on a promise to God, but he also figured the big guy was willing to compromise. So Mail Pouch chewing tobacco had replaced the stogies, and he had invented his own method of cursing. When he was offended he would tell somebody to "kiss my rabbit hash" or call them a son of a Suzuki (D.W. hated imported cars and trucks. He believed real men drove Fords, Chevys, and Dodges). When he was really upset he had gone so far as to call someone a "salad eating Frenchman." (D.W. also hated salad and the French.)
"They just found a third skull."
"Well that's just perfect now, ain't it? This one shot, too?"
"Just like the first two. Same place."
D.W. shook his head and looked sourly at the trench. "Why does this kind of thing have to happen to me?"
"Wasn't exactly like it happened to you," Flag said. "It ain't your bones layin' down there."
D.W. ignored his wife's brother. The two men had never gotten along, and probably never would. It rankled Flag to have to take orders from his brother-in-law, a man whom he felt was not at all qualified for the office he held. An office that Flag himself coveted. More than once he had thought about running against D.W. in the next election, but he really didn't need the family drama that it would create. As for D.W., he resented the fact that his wife's hard drinking, heavy smoking brother seemed to have a heart as reliable as an old Detroit diesel engine no matter how badly he abused his body, while D.W. was eating low fat yogurt and dry toast for breakfast. Life just wasn't fair.
An ancient Volkswagen Beetle that had been red at one time but was now a faded orange stopped behind D.W.'s unit and a young woman with curly auburn hair that hung to her shoulders got out and joined them. John Lee and Flag nodded at her, and D.W. tipped his straw cowboy hat and said, "Good morning, Dixie. When you gonna get rid of that slug bug and buy yourself a real car?"
She laughed and said, "Never. It's a classic."
"If you say so."
"How you doin' this fine morning?"
"I'll do better when I get this done and get back to the office. It feels like a sauna out here."
"Well then, let's get to it."
D.W. crawled down into the trench with some difficulty, and said to John Lee, "Hand me that there skull, son."
John Lee gave him the latest skull they had found and D.W. picked up a shovel and turned to face the camera, a grim look on his face. The young woman raised her camera and took several photographs, including one where the sheriff placed the skull back down in the dirt and bent over beside it. To anyone reading that week's
Somerton County News
, the front page picture would look like the sheriff himself had uncovered the grisly crime scene.
"D.W. does know how to work the press," John Lee said.
"That's about the only work that fat bastard ever does," Flag said as he glowered at the scene of his boss taking credit for the discovery.
With her photographs taken, the reporter turned to John Lee to ask him for details, her camera not recording the scene as two deputies had to help their boss back out of the trench. Flag shook his head in disgust and walked away.
"What can you tell me, John Lee?"
"Not a lot yet," the deputy said, and recited the bare facts of the case. How the grader operator had uncovered the first skeleton the afternoon before and how they had collected the bones that he had taken them to Doc Dawson, who after a brief examination had reported that he believed that the person had been shot in the back of the head, and then revealed that the bones indicated there was more than one victim.
"What did you do then?"
"We had already sealed off the scene and posted a deputy here overnight to keep it from being disturbed. This morning we started searching the location more, and so far have uncovered two more skulls and other assorted bones."
The reporter started to ask him something else, but by then D.W. was back, huffing and puffing with the exertion and the heat. "Did you get your pictures, Dixie?"
"Then there's no need for us to stand out here in this heat. Why don't you meet me back at my office and I can give you a full statement there."
"Sheriff, I was just asking John Lee..."
"Now honey, John Lee ain't the spokesman for the Sheriff's Department. I am. So let's you and me go someplace where we won't melt and I'll give you all the details."
She started to protest, but he walked her back to her car and held the door open while she got in.
"Well, at least chivalry isn't dead," John Lee said to nobody in particular.
Once Dixie had made a U-turn and headed back toward town, D.W. got in his Tahoe and started it, then leaned out the window and said, "Call me on my cell phone and fill me in while I'm driving back down so I have the details to tell that gal."
And with that, the sheriff made his own U-turn and tromped on the accelerator, spewing dirt and gravel behind him as he went.