BUD TURLEY, CALLED BUD SQUIRRELLY BY THOSE WHO THOUGHT he had a lot of peculiar ideas, put the gigantic tooth down on Sheriff Dan Rhodes's desk and said, "I want you to take custody of this tooth, Sheriff."
Rhodes looked down at the tooth. He was sure he'd never seen a bigger one. It was six or seven inches tall and two or three inches wide. It wasn't exactly in prime shape. It was more of a fossil than an actual tooth. Rhodes looked up at Turley.
"The county doesn't generally take custody of teeth, Bud. Not unless they're evidence."
"This one's evidence," Turley said. "Evidence that I've been right all along. We'll see who's crazy now."
"I meant evidence in a crime," Rhodes told him.
"There might be a crime involved. I just haven't uncovered the body yet."
Turley was a big, red-faced man, at least six-two. He was completelybald, and he had on a long-billed welder's cap, black with white polka dots. His arms looked as if he'd just come from pumping iron at the gym. Or in a prison yard, considering the tattoos. A devil with forked tail and pitchfork dancing in flames on the left bicep, and a cow skull on the right. Under the skull was the word "Moo."
Turley wore a "concealed carry" vest with more pockets than Rhodes could count. They were stuffed with things like binoculars, a cell phone, an opened package of jerky, a ballpoint pen, a water bottle, a flashlight, and other paraphernalia that Rhodes couldn't see. The lawman knew that there were at least two pockets inside the vest for holding sidearms. He figured that some of the outside pockets held extra magazines for the pistol that Turley was surely carrying, considering the sag of the vest.
Underneath the vest Turley wore a T-shirt with the arms ripped out. The vest hung open, and Rhodes could see that the T-shirt was emblazoned with an eagle's head in front of an American flag. Turley's blue jeans were faded almost white, and the bottoms were crusted with drying mud, as were the leather hiking boots he wore.
"You know it's against the law to carry a firearm in a correctional facility," Rhodes said.
Turley's head lifted, and something flared in his eyes as if they were reflecting a match flame. Rhodes wondered if he might pull out the pistol and start shooting, but Turley got a grip on himself, and the little flame disappeared. Turley took off his cap and ran his hand across the top of his perfectly smooth head. He settled the cap back and smoothed it down, using both hands on the sides to get it just right.
"Sorry, Sheriff. I forgot. I guess I was in too big a hurry to getthat tooth in here. I'll go and lock my gun in the Jeep if you're not going to arrest me."
The implication was that if Rhodes intended to arrest Turley, he'd have to pry the pistol from Turley's cold, dead fingers.
"I'm not going to arrest you," Rhodes said. "This time."
"Thanks. You watch that tooth while I'm gone."
Turley went out, and Rhodes's hand went to the crown of his head. He thought he might be getting a little bald spot back there. He couldn't see it in the mirror, but his father'd had a bald spot, and Rhodes could be getting one now. He was about the right age.
"I always wonder if I'm goin' bald when I see that fella," Hack Jensen said.
Hack was the dispatcher, and although he was much older than Rhodes, his hair was still thick. Totally gray, but thick and carefully combed. He would never go bald, and he knew it.
"How did you know what I was thinking?" Rhodes said. "Have I got a bald spot in back?"
"Nah," said Lawton, who'd been sweeping the floor. "You got plenty of hair."
Lawton was the jailer, and while his hair was thin, he still had plenty of it. It was black, too, which puzzled Rhodes since Lawton was as old as Hack. His hair should have been gray, too, but it wasn't, and Rhodes was sure he didn't dye it. Most likely he didn't even know that there was such a thing as hair dye for men.
Lawton looked over at Hack, and the two grinned at each other. Rhodes was sure they were grinning because he was going bald, though of course they'd never admit it.
The door opened, and Turley came back inside the jail. "You still got the tooth?" he said.
"It's right there," Rhodes said, looking down at it again. "Now, where'd the tooth come from, and what's this about a body?"
"It came from the bank of Pittman Creek, up around Big Woods. I've been saying for years that I'd find Bigfoot there, and now I have."
"I thought you said it was a tooth," Hack said.
Turley turned to look at him. "It is a tooth. A Bigfoot tooth."
"Could be somethin' else, couldn't it?"
"No. It's a Bigfoot tooth. And I think there's part of a jawbone there, too. So the rest of the body must be somewhere around."
"What if that was the last of 'em?" Lawton said, clasping both hands around the broom handle and leaning on it. "All dead, and that tooth there's part of the last of the Bigfoots. Or Bigfeet. Which is it?"
"I didn't come here for some ignorant old fart to make fun of me," Turley said, glaring at Lawton.
Lawton's hands tightened on the broom handle.
Rhodes stood up behind his desk. He wasn't as tall as Turley, but he was tall enough. Besides, he was the sheriff. That counted for something.
"You'll have to watch the way you talk in here, Bud," he said.
Turley turned back to him, took off his cap, ran his hand across the top of his head, and put the cap back on. "Sorry. I didn't mean to get ugly. I guess I've just been made fun of for too long. I don't much like it."
"I wasn't makin' fun," Lawton said. "Just askin' a question."
"Yeah," Turley said.
Rhodes sat back down and looked at the tooth. He didn't know what a Bigfoot tooth looked like, or even if there was such a thing,but whatever that tooth belonged to would have been huge, far larger than any Bigfoot could be.
"You should have it looked at by an expert," he said.
"I've already called the expert. He's coming here to look at it. I don't want anybody to steal it. That's why I think you should take custody of it. This is going to be the biggest thing that's ever happened in Blacklin County."
Rhodes would have mentioned something bigger, but he couldn't think of anything. A Sasquatch would be big news indeed.
"You say you found it up by Pittman Creek?"
"That's right. Close to Big Woods."
Pittman Creek had been named for George Pittman, one of the county's early settlers. Just after the Civil War, he'd come to Texas from Mississippi and built a house near the creek that now bore his name. Not much else was known about him except that he liked to read Shakespeare and that he'd started the first rumor about something large and strange that lived in Big Woods.
"Do you want to be more specific about where you found it?" Rhodes said. "That creek runs all the way across the county, and Big Woods covers quite a stretch, too."
"I'll save the exact location until somebody looks at that tooth," Turley said. "Will you keep it for me?"
Rhodes had an idea Turley was being cagey because he didn't know who owned the land where he'd found the tooth. Or maybe he just didn't want anybody else horning in on his big discovery.
"I'll hang on to it." Rhodes picked up the tooth, which was heavier than he'd thought it would be. "I'll put it in the evidence locker."
"I appreciate it," Turley said.
"What's the name of this expert you're calling in?"
"Name's Vance. Tom Vance. He teaches at the community college.He has a couple of classes here tomorrow, so he'll be in town then."
A community college from another county had recently opened an extension campus in Clearview, the county seat of Blacklin County, and the only town in the county of any real size. None of the college instructors, except for a couple of adjunct instructors, lived in Clearview. They all drove to class from their homes near the main campus, which was a couple of counties away.
"This Vance know anything about Bigfoot?" Rhodes asked, resisting the urge to say "Bigfoots."
"He knows about all kinds of things. About dinosaurs and all that. He teaches biology, but he's a paleontologist, too." Turley looked at Lawton. "That's somebody who studies prehistoric animals."
"I knew that," Lawton said.
Turley ignored him and said to Rhodes, "He's interested in Bigfoot, too, because it could be some kind of survivor from prehistory. Some kind of giant primate." He looked at Lawton. "That means a big monkey."
Lawton didn't bother to respond.
"Don't think monkeys are native to North America," Hack said. "Don't think they ever lived here."
"They could have," Turley said. "Big ones. And I might have one's tooth right here."
"Don't get your hopes up," Hack said. "Better wait for that expert."
"He'll be here tomorrow," Turley said. "Eleven o'clock, he said. And this tooth better be here, too."
"It will be," Rhodes said.
A MAMMOTH MURDER. Copyright © 2006 by Bill Crider. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.