Stillborn Armadillos (John Lee Quarrels Book 1) (18 page)

BOOK: Stillborn Armadillos (John Lee Quarrels Book 1)
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Chapter 35


Charlotte Thompson ignored him the same way when he went back the next afternoon, but at least Troy Somerton did not keep him waiting as long. John Lee was only two paragraphs into a story about solar panels in one of the builders' magazines when Troy opened the door to his office and said, "Come on in, John Lee."

As soon as they were seated, Troy said, "I'm sorry, but I haven't come up with much of anything to help you. Apparently there was a tornado came through here back in '64 or '65, somethin' like that. I guess it destroyed several buildings around town, includin' a warehouse where we had all of the company records stored."

John Lee remembered hearing about the big tornado of 1965 when he was growing up. As he recalled, it had killed two or three people as it tore a mile-long swath through Somerton County, taking out everything in its path.

"Well that sucks."

"I did mention it to my Daddy. He said the turpentine camps were gone by the time he was born, but he remembered his father and his granddaddy talkin' about them."

"Really? What did he have to say about them?"

"Oh, no details, just that they were there. I guess it was quite a business at one time. The company had three or four camps spread out around the county."


"Six? Six what ?"

"Somerton Lumber operated six turpentine camps at one time."

"Then you know more about it than Daddy can remember. Like I said, he just recalls hearing about them, but no details."

"What about your grandfather, Troy? He's old enough that he'd probably remember."

Troy shook his head. "Oh, I'm sure he'd have all kinds of stuff to tell you about them. Now, whether it was true or not, that'd be the hard part to figure out. Like I said yesterday, he's slowed down a lot, and you don't really know when you're talkin' to him how much is real and how much is garbled. Somebody on the TV was talkin' 'bout the Vietnam War on television the other night and Grandpa started tellin' us about the Tet Offensive or some such, and how they fought for days without end."

"I didn't know he was in Vietnam."

"That's just the point, John Lee. He wasn't. He was born in 1927, he'd have been too old for that. Now, he was in World War II, right at the tail end. But apparently he saw some TV show or movie about that Tet thing and he decided he'd been there. The week before, he was tellin' us all about how he come drivin' along some country road with a lady friend and came on the scene right after Bonnie and Clyde got killed. I think he'd have been about seven years old when that happened."

"So he likes telling tall tales."

"No, sir," Troy said, shaking his head. "Nope, in Grandpa's mind, it really happened just that way. Like I said, he gets things all mixed up in his head. Half the time he calls me by my Daddy's name and I have to keep tellin' him who I am. I know your grandma and grandpa are younger than him, but do they ever do that? Get things confused like that and call somebody by someone else's name?"

John Lee didn't want to think about when Mama Nell might be calling Paw Paw Elvis, and he quickly pushed the mental image that came into his mind away. "No, they're both pretty sharp. Still crazy in their own way, but sharp."

"That's a good thing. Enjoy them while you can. Hey, John Lee, do you remember how when we was kids your Mama Nell dressed you up like Elvis for Halloween every year? How after the second or third year you were so sick of it that as soon as you was away from the house you took that darn costume off and hid it in the bushes and put on some raggedy clothes and rubbed dirt on your face and pretended you were a hobo instead?"

John Lee chuckled at the memory. "Yeah, I do. And I remember that you hid that Elvis costume and I was afraid I was gonna get a butt whoopin' when Mama Nell found out the truth."

"I had you goin' there for a while, didn't I?"

"Oh yeah. I don't think I ever managed to get even with you for that one, Troy. Just where are those roads that you drive that Corvette of yours so fast on?"

They both laughed, and Troy said, "I ain't tellin'. They say payback's a bitch."

"Yes, it is. And this payback's got a lot of years of interest built up."

"Damn, John Lee, we need to get together more often, like I said yesterday. We used to have such good times together. Me and you, and Patrick, and Dan. Real good times!"

At the mention of Dan's name they both grew somber for a moment.

"I sure do miss him."

"I do, too Troy."

"Do you ever hear from Patrick anymore?"

"It's been years. He came back to town for the funeral when his Mama died and I saw him there. Said he was living up in Tennessee someplace, working for the post office."

The intercom on Troy's desk buzzed and he pushed the button,


"Sir, Mr. Swanson from SWB Insulation Concepts is on the telephone. He says he's got those quotes you asked for."

"Thanks, Charlotte, tell him I'll be with him in just a minute."

A button on the telephone on his desk began to blink. "I'm sorry, John Lee, I've really got to take this."

"I understand," John Lee said, standing up.

Troy extended his hand across the desk and they shook.

"If I come up with anything else about those turpentine camps or anything at all that can help you with findin' out who those skeletons belong to, I'll be in touch."

"I appreciate that," John Lee said, going to the door.

Just as he opened it, Troy said, "Don't forget, we need to get together. We'll go fishin' or something, okay?"

"Okay," John Lee replied, but Troy was already on the phone, taking care of business. Charlotte never looked up as he passed her desk.




It was 10 o'clock at night and John Lee was watching a rerun of an old sitcom with Bob Newhart running a Vermont country inn on one of the cable channels when his phone rang.

"John Lee, we've got shots fired downtown, officer involved shooting."

"I'm on my way," he said grabbing his gun belt from the hook in the bedroom. "Anybody hurt?"

"Obie called it in. All he said is someone is shooting at him. He's parked at the grade school. He thinks it's the sniper again."

John Lee paused long enough to work the dial on the gun safe in his spare bedroom. If the sniper was still there, he wanted to have more than his pistol or the shotgun from his patrol car, both of which had limited range, to go up against the man's scoped rifle. He opened the heavy steel door, pulled out his Colt AR-15 and a bandolier with six loaded twenty round magazines. Running out to the Charger, he threw the bandolier on the passenger seat, set the rifle on the floor on the passenger side, flipped his lights and siren on, and raced toward the school.

The radio was alive with chatter as other deputies responded and said they were on the way.

"Hurry up, they're shootin' at me again," Obie said, the terror in his voice evident. "I think they've got a machine gun!" Everybody could hear the rapid gunshots going off in the background.

"John Lee, where you at?"

"Three blocks away."

"Come in from the back," Flag ordered. "We'll see if we can catch this bastard between us."


"Listen to me everybody," Flag said, "Don't take any chances. If you see the son of a bitch, shoot him!"

John Lee wondered how many citizens with police scanners were hearing Somerton County's Chief Deputy ordering them to shoot the suspect on sight. Then again, given how upset everyone was over Ray Ray's death, he didn't think there would be any complaints if that's exactly what happened.

A block from the school he turned his lights and siren off, and as he got close to the rear parking lot he turned his headlights off as well. Getting out, he pulled the charging handle on the AR-15 to chamber a round. Every sense on high alert, he scanned the parking lot, looking for any sign of danger hiding in the long shadows.

There was nothing, but then he heard a scuffling noise and he crouched down behind the hood of the Charger, aiming the rifle toward the sound. The sound grew louder and a shape emerged from the darkness, running fast.

"Freeze! Make one move and I'll shoot!"

The suspect skidded to a stop, and a second later another fast moving form crashed into him and both of them went down.

Holding it away from his body so as not to make himself a target, John Lee pointed his tactical flashlight and the rifle at them and said, "Don't you move! I mean it, don't even fart or you're dead."

"Don't shoot! Please don't shoot!"

John Lee looked over the rifle's sights at them, his finger still on the trigger. Then he saw the faces in the harsh light of his flashlight and said, "Son of a bitch!"

One of the suspects grinned and said, "Hi, John Lee."



Chapter 36


"Are you two completely out of your friggin' minds? Do you know how close you came to gettin' your stupid asses blown away?"

John Lee was pretty sure the two teenage boys were more afraid of the Chief Deputy's rage than they had been of him and his rifle.

"What in the hell were you idiots thinkin' anyway, pullin' a fool stunt like that?"

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," Herbie Matthews said.

"A good idea? Really? Do you think this is funny?"

"No, sir," said Stephen Atterbury, staring at the floor as he shook his head.

"With all that's going on in this town, I'm surprised you're both not dead right now. Do you know what an AR-15 will do to you?"

"Yeah, in videogames."

"Videogames? Son, life  isn't a fuckin' videogame! In real life, bullets tear people to pieces and they die. I'll tell both you little peckerheads somethin' right now. You're damn lucky it was John Lee back there behind that school instead of me or somebody else. 'Cause with a call for shots fired at a deputy after what happened to Ray Ray Watkins, most of us would have blown your asses away, com'in at them out of the dark like that, before you ever got close enough to see who it was!"

"We're sorry," Stephen said. "We just thought we was goin' to give Obie a scare. We didn't expect all this to happen."

"What the hell
you expect to happen?"

The boy shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. Just that he'd get all excited, maybe piss his pants or something like that."

There was a knock on the door and the dispatcher poked his head in and said, "Their parents are in the lobby."

"You go talk to them, John Lee. I'm pretty sure if I do, I'll ask them if they'd mind if I just beat both these mutts' heads in."

The boys looked at John Lee in a panic, and he wasn't sure if it was because they were afraid of what their parents might do when they saw them, or what Flag would do to them without any witnesses present.

Dave and Karen Atterbury had been in John Lee's class in high school and were worried that she'd have enough credits to graduate. Not because Karen, a student who was more interested in having fun with her friends than studying, wanted to avoid having to go to summer school, but because she was already three months pregnant and beginning to show. Their son Stephen, born that September, was the first official child born to anyone from their class, though a couple of girls had gone away to "visit relatives" out of state between their junior and senior years.

Herbie's parents, Gene and Lorraine Matthews, were a few years older. All four of them were concerned as to why they had been called to the sheriff's department late at night, so soon after hearing all of the sirens as police cars tore through town.

"What's happening, John Lee? Are our boys all right? Nobody will tell us anything and everyone looks so grim."

"Yeah, they're fine, Karen. But it was close, I'll tell you that."

John Lee had been shaken by how close he had come to pulling the trigger when Herbie had come rushing at him out of the darkness. He was thankful that he had not obeyed Fig's order to shoot on sight.

"What the hell happened?"

"Well, it seems like the boys thought it would be funny to crawl up on the roof of the grade school and light a bunch of firecrackers and throw them on top of Obie Long's patrol car. He thought somebody was shooting at him and he called it in and every cop in the county responded. I came into the back parking lot just as the boys came running out of the darkness and almost shot them."

"Wait a minute," Lorraine Matthews said. "You almost shot my son?"

"Yes, ma'am. Almost," John Lee said.

"Are you out of your god damn mind? Did they have a gun?"

"No, ma'am. But you have to understand it was dark and we were responding to a call of shots fired. And with what happened to Deputy Watkins just..."

"I don't give a flying fuck what happened to Deputy Watkins. You almost shot my son?"

"Like I said, we had reports of shots fired. And all of a sudden they come running at me out of the darkness..."

"I want to talk to your supervisor right now!"

"Calm down, Lorraine. We've known John Lee forever. If he..."

"If he what, Karen? He almost shot our

"But he didn't," Dave Atterbury said. "Let's just be glad about that and find out what the hell's going on before anybody starts throwing blame around."

"Oh, I know who's to blame. That little punk of yours, that's who to blame. Herbie's never been in trouble before."

"Well, neither has Stephen. For all we know..."

"Just shut up, Karen. If you were a better mother maybe you'd know..."

"Don't tell me to shut up!"

"Ladies, let's calm down, okay?"

"Calm down? You almost killed my son and you want me to calm down?"

The slap caught John Lee by surprise, but before he could react Lorraine was on the attack, raining blows upon his face and clawing at his eyes with her fingernails. He threw up his left arm to try to protect himself and tried to push her away with his right. She was screaming and cursing at him and somehow managed to get past his upraised arm and close enough to rake her fingers down his right cheek.

"Stop it! Stop it, Lorraine," Karen was shouting as the woman's husband stood dumbfounded at what he was seeing. Bob Patterson and Dave Atterbury managed to grab her and pull her away before she could do any more damage.

"Settle down," Bob ordered.

Lorraine fought both of them, trying to get free and back at John Lee.

"I said stop it, lady!"

Completely out of control, she only seemed to fight harder, managing to hit Dave in the mouth, splitting his lip, which exploded with a spray of blood.

Bob pulled the pepper spray canister from a pouch on his belt and gave her a blast in the face. Lorraine shrieked and threw her hands to her face. Bob took advantage of the opportunity and wrestled her to the floor, where he handcuffed her hands behind her.

He jerked her to her feet and sat her down in a chair, then turned to John Lee. "Are you okay?"

John Lee wasn't okay. He could taste blood in his mouth and his cheek felt like it had been flayed open. But he nodded his head. "Check on Dave, she got him a pretty good lick."

"I'm okay," Dave said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, which came away bloody.

"My eyes are on fire," Lorraine screamed. "Somebody do something!"

"Paramedics are on the way," said the dispatcher.

A moment later the door opened and Sheriff D.W. Swindle strode into the lobby. Seeing the scene before him, with one of his deputies and a civilian bloodied, and a handcuffed woman wailing that her eyes were burning, he stopped in his tracks.

"What in holy hell is goin' on here?"

"It's a long story D.W. You might as well pour yourself a cup of coffee," John Lee said. "Because I think we're going to be here all night."

BOOK: Stillborn Armadillos (John Lee Quarrels Book 1)
4.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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