Stillborn Armadillos (John Lee Quarrels Book 1) (4 page)

BOOK: Stillborn Armadillos (John Lee Quarrels Book 1)
2.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Stanley was a tall, thin man with a weathered face that came from his years of working as a lineman for Florida Power & Light Company, and a gray ponytail that hung down his back. He had been a young man working for a public utility in Pennsylvania when he had been sent south after a hurricane to help restore power in Florida. And while it was hot hanging off the side of a pole 40 feet in the air, he quickly decided he'd rather do that than spend another winter freezing his rear end off in Harrisburg. Stanley was a hard worker, and when FPL had offered him a job, he had been quick to accept.

Of course, Somerton County wasn't the Florida of the tourist brochures, with the white sand beaches and young women running around in skimpy bikinis. Located in the northern part of the state, just inland from the Big Bend where northwest Florida curved into the Panhandle, rural Somerton County was far less affluent and more what Old Florida was like long before the neon tourist traps and theme parks further south appeared in the landscape. This was piney woods country, with lots of swamps, bayous, and marshland. Good ol' boy and girl rednecks, along with northern retirees looking for a more peaceful and cheaper way to live out their lives shared the county with alligators, a few black bears, and even an occasional rare panther. The small town of Somerton was the biggest community in its namesake county, and that suited Stanley just fine. Sure, it was hot and humid in the summertime, but the rest of the year was fine, and you didn't have to shovel sunshine.

When John Lee's patrol car pulled into the driveway Stanley was in the greenhouse puttering with his plants. An inveterate tinkerer, now that he was retired Stanley spent his days building things. Everything from the greenhouse, which was constructed with PVC pipe and plastic sheeting, to a windmill that he had built and tapped into the solar system he had constructed to add wind power. Stanley had given FPL 35 years of his life, and while he had enjoyed his work and the utility had treated him right, now that he was retired he didn't want to give them any more money than he had to. More than half of his and Mama Nell's electric power needs were provided by the sun and the wind.

Besides building things, Stanley was also a gardener. And he believed that the fact that he grew marijuana along with tomatoes, beans, and sprouts was nobody's business but his own. After all, it was all about having a self-sustaining lifestyle, right?

"Hey there, John Lee. Good to see you ain't got no holes shot in you. Mama Nell's been worried."

"I'm sorry, I should have called, Paw Paw."

John Lee started to go into the greenhouse, then turned away and stepped back outside, shaking his head.

"Paw Paw, you can't be growing pot."

"It's not what you think, John Lee. It's for my glaucoma."

"You don't have glaucoma, Paw Paw. I was with you when you had your eye exam at the WalMart over there in Perry, and the eye doctor said you still had 20/20 vision."

"I know, that shit works good, don't it?"

Before John Lee could reply, the door of the house burst open and Mama Nell came screeching across the yard with her arms outstretched. "You're alive!" She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him close. "I was so worried when I heard about that shootin'."

"Yeah Mama Nell, I'm fine."

She let go of him and then swatted him on the ass. Hard.


"What were you thinkin', not answerin' my calls or lettin' me know you were okay?"

"I'm sorry, I've been kind of busy. And I forgot to charge my phone and the battery went dead. Ouch!"

She had swatted him again.

"Mama Nell, I'm 31 years old. I don't need you spanking my rear end all the time."

"Those was love taps. You know how worried I've been? I was just now inside prayin' to Elvis that he was lookin' down on you and was gonna keep you safe."

"Mama Nell, you can't be prayin' to Elvis. He ain't God. Ouch!"

"You watch what you say about the King!"

John Lee wanted to protest, but he was tired of getting spanked, so he let it go.

"Now, you just tell me what the hell happened out there yesterday. What have you got yourself mixed up in that people are shootin' at you?"

"I don't know," John Lee admitted. "It's pretty weird. We found these three skeletons and then the next thing we knew someone was shooting at us from across the road."

"You don't think it was hunters?"

He shook his head. "Nothing's in season this time of year, Paw Paw."

"Maybe target shooters?"

"No, they usually go over there by Loggerhead Pond where they can use that big earth dike as a backstop. Whoever this was, he knew exactly what he was shooting at. And while it scared the bejesus out of us, whoever was doing the shooting wasn't trying to hit us. At that range, with a scoped rifle, he could have, easy enough."

"I really worry about you doin' that job," Mama Nell said.

"I'm fine," he reassured her. These things happen."

"Maybe you should become a singer, just like Elvis. People loved Elvis, they didn't shoot him."

"I don't know about that. Somebody shot John Lennon. Ouch!"

"Don't you be comparin' that limey to Mr. Elvis Presley! Now, I ain't takin' nothin' away from the Beatles, but everybody knows Elvis was a real superstar. And he didn't need three other people up there on stage with him to make him look good. No sir, not Elvis!"

"If you keep hitting me, I'm going to leave, Mama Nell. Ouch!"

"That was the last one, and that was for sassin' me. Now give me a hug. I been so worried 'bout you!"



Chapter 8


He really needed to get back out to the crime scene and check up on things, and he still needed to drop his patrol car off at the shop to get those windows replaced and a new spare tire, but Mama Nell wasn't hearing any of that until John Lee had lunch. And while he much preferred a good bacon cheeseburger over the sprouts and lentils that his vegetarian grandparents served, he was too hungry to argue. Not that it would have done him much good, anyway. When Mama Nell set her mind to something, it was going to happen.

Finally, with his stomach full and Mama Nell assured that he was going to continue to stay alive for at least a while longer, John Lee was able to make his exit. He dropped his car off at the garage, picked up another unit, and drove back to the crime scene. The white crime lab van was gone and Deputy Ray Ray Watkins was sitting in the old Caprice that was too worn out and tired to be used for anything else except parking it alongside the highway to remind people there was a speed limit.

"Where did everybody go, Ray Ray?"

"Ov.. ov... over with."

"What's over with?"

"The cri... cri... crime scene pe... pe... people got... got done and left."

Raymond Watkins had been cursed with a terrible stutter all of his life, and on his first day of school when the teacher told each student to stand up and introduce themselves, when it came to his turn he had managed to say "Ray... Ray...Watkins." From that day forward everybody in Somerton County referred to him as Ray Ray. Some people still teased him about his speech impediment, and wondered how he could do the job of a deputy. More than once Flag had said it was probably better than him being a paratrooper, since he would never live long enough to count to three and pull his ripcord.

"Did they find anything else?"

"Only... only thi... thing they found was a piece of barbed wire."

"Barbed wire?"

The deputy nodded his head and held his hands about seven inches apart and said, "The...the... this big."

"Okay, so we're done here?"

Ray Ray nodded and said, "Wor... work crew com... coming back out in a li... little while to get back at it."

"Work crew? Roy Ballard and his guys?"

Ray Ray nodded again. John Lee knew there had been enough delays on the road project already and that the construction people needed to get back at it, but he would have liked a little more time to investigate the site further. He knew things didn't always work out the way one wanted in Somerton County, where there were not a lot of resources and sometimes they had to make do to get the job done.

"Okay, then I'm gonna head back into town. I don't think you need to worry about anybody coming back and shooting at you at this point, do you?"

"It's... it's okay, John Lee. I can... I can... I can duck faster than I can talk."

John Lee laughed and slapped him on the shoulder and got into his car and drove back to town. There were television news vans from Tallahassee and Jacksonville parked in front of the courthouse and D.W. was in his glory as he preened for the cameras and told them how no matter how long ago those poor folks had been murdered, he was going to get to the bottom of it. "There is no statute of limitations on murder in the great state of Florida, and here in Somerton County we have a long memory and we're committed to making things right," D.W. was saying. "Make no doubt about it, we are going to follow through with this and see justice done!"

John Lee watched from the sidelines for another moment or two as D.W. started fielding questions from the reporters, then went inside. The Sheriff's Department was housed in the back of the courthouse, and he nodded at a couple of folks he knew as he went back to the dispatch office. Sheila Sharp looked up from her radio console and asked, "Did you go see Mama Nell?"

"Yes, ma'am, I did. She feels better knowing that I don't have any more holes in me than the ones I was born with."

"Well, bless her heart. That sweet lady loves you, John Lee. You know that."

"Yes, ma'am, I do. Anything going on here?"

Sheila shook her head. "You saw the circus out front. D.W. is in his glory, and Fig is upstairs pouting because he wanted to be the one talking to the press and D.W. shot him down."

"Two things you never want to get between with D.W. are a pork chop or a television camera," John Lee said.

"No, sir," Sheila said, shaking her head. "He's still not eating much meat. A lot of fish and chicken, but that's about it."

"I wish he'd get himself a steak or a rack of baby back ribs. At the rate he's going, he's gonna live forever."

Sheila laughed and said, "That might not be all bad. Think about it, John Lee, if D.W. was to keel over, Fig would be sheriff. I don't think any of us want that."

"You do have a point."

"Is there anything going on that I can take care of?"

Sheila shook her head. "Maddy is out on road patrol. She called when she stopped a speeder about an hour ago and cleared from that. Otherwise, nothing."

"Did you hear anything about the crime lab folks?"

"Just that Jayne with a Y is a real bitch."

"Yeah, I've had the pleasure of meeting her," John Lee said.

"Barry said they went over the scene quite a bit, and one of the guys that was with her said we did a pretty good job. They took copies of the pictures you guys took and everything and then came here and collected all those bones, then they headed back to Tallahassee. I've got to tell ya' John Lee, I was glad to see those bones gone from here!" She shuddered, as if for emphasis.

"Hell, Sheila, dead people can't hurt you none. It's the living ones I worry about."

"Even so, I'm just glad they're gone."

With nothing else to do, John Lee drove back out to the construction site again, but when he saw Rita Sue, he made it a point to park as far away from where she stood with her sign as he could. He walked into the edge of the trees where they thought the shooter had been and located the spot where the three brass cartridge cases had been found, which they had marked with a small red ribbon stuck into the ground on a wire.

They had been over that ground several times already, both the night of the shooting and that morning, but he wanted to see it for himself one more time. John Lee was not much of an outdoorsman, and he certainly couldn't follow a trail like an experienced hunter might, but he had a good knowledge of local landscape. He knew that there was a fire road about a quarter of a mile further back and they had suspected that was probably where the shooter had parked his car. But a lot of lovers came back there to neck at night, and during the daytime four wheelers and ATVs frequented the area, so there had been a hodgepodge of tire tracks and no discerning evidence of which might belong to the sniper.

If the person
even parked there and hiked to his shooting spot. There were trails all through the thick scrub, and who was to say how he had come and gone? For all John Lee knew, he might be back again, he might have the rifle scope's crosshairs centered on his back at that very moment. In spite of himself he felt a shudder much like the one that Sheila had exhibited back at the courthouse. But he told himself that was nonsense. Why would the shooter come back again? What did he have to gain? Then again, why had he been there in the first place?

John Lee poked around for another half hour or so, though he knew it was fruitless. Finally giving up, he walked back through the woods to the road. Rita Sue saw him and yelled, then whistled and waved her arm. As much as he didn't want to, he walked over to where she stood with her sign, holding back two pickups and some kind of foreign car.

"Now what you doin' goin' off in those woods all by yourself, John Lee?"

"I was just looking around."

"We've got a short day, what with everythin' be'in closed down 'cause of those bones and stuff. We never did get together last night..."

She left the invitation hanging there and John Lee figured the best way to handle it was to just get it over with.

"Look, Rita Sue, I don't think that's really a good idea."

"Oh, trust me, I've got some real good ideas for things you and me could be doin'."

"I don't think so."

"Why not?"

"Well, you're in a relationship, for one thing. And I'm married."

"Now John Lee, I wasn't expectin' us to set up housekeeping together or nothin' like that. I'm just talking about a little bit of fun."

"Yeah, but like I said, I'm married."

"I know about your marriage," Rita Sue said. "And I know that wife of yours is livin' with another woman. And I know they ain't just roommates, if you get my drift."

"Be that as it may, as long as I'm married..."

"I'm not gonna say a thing. I mean, I might do some moanin' and screamin', but that's about it."

"Yeah, well, it's not going to happen. Besides, you've got a boyfriend, don't you?"

"Randy? Shoot, he don't care what I do. He's passed me around to both his brothers and a couple of his friends. Besides, he's still locked up. A girl has needs, you know."

"And I'm a cop. I'm not sure the sheriff would take kindly to me sleeping with someone's girlfriend while the man's in jail."

Her handheld radio crackled with a message and Rita Sue said, "10-4" and rotated her sign around then waved the traffic through.

"You're makin' this way too complicated, John Lee. I'll tell you what, you come back in an hour and a half when I'm off and we'll take us a little ride down one of these fire breaks and all you gotta do is sit back and enjoy. I'll make you feel real good."

He felt his skin crawl, and since he knew that nothing he said was going to get the message through to her, he just said, "I'll have to pass" and walked away.

"Well screw you, John Lee Quarrels! You ain't got no idea what you're missin! You think you're the only man in Somerton County? I can have anybody I want. I was just tryin' to be nice to you!"

He ignored her and got in his car and drove away.

BOOK: Stillborn Armadillos (John Lee Quarrels Book 1)
2.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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