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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

That Old Scoundrel Death

A Dan Rhodes Mystery

Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mysteries (Volume 25)

Bill Crider

Minotaur Books


Chapter 1

Sheriff Dan Rhodes looked at the man who was pointing the pistol at him.

Aside from the tattoo of the snake coiling around his neck, the man wasn’t impressive. He was around thirty, about five-ten, skinny, dirty blond hair sticking out all over his head, scraggly goatee, bad teeth. He wore a thin white T-shirt with “Don’t Taze Me, Bro” printed on it in faded red letters. The shirt was streaked with dirt, and the faded jeans were even dirtier and ripped at both knees. Rhodes didn’t think the rips were a fashion statement. The man’s brown eyes bugged out a bit because he was a little high, probably on meth even this early in the day. Meth, breakfast of champions.

The pistol wasn’t any more impressive than the man. It was a cheap knockoff of a 9mm Glock, most likely picked up at a flea market for a hundred dollars or so, and a rip-off even at that price.

The problem with an unimpressive man tweaking on meth and holding an unimpressive pistol was the combination of all those things, especially when the man was sweating and his hand had a slight shake. You never could tell what might happen.

Rhodes was sweating, too, but not because he was nervous. The blue August sky held only a couple of high, wispy clouds, and the temperature was well over ninety, probably closer to a hundred. Rhodes had a feeling that the spot on the back of his head where the hair was getting thin was going to blister. He really should start wearing a hat or a cap, but having something on his head bothered him.

“Are you planning to shoot me with that thing?” Rhodes asked the man with the pistol.

The man glanced down at the pistol as if he wasn’t quite sure he was still holding it, then looked back at Rhodes.

“Might,” he said. His voice was high and whiney, no more impressive than the rest of him.

His answer wasn’t exactly the one Rhodes had been hoping for, but it was better than a more positive one would have been.

“What about him?” Rhodes asked, looking over at the heavyset young man sitting down and leaning back against the front fender of a gray Toyota Camry parked on the side of the road.

The man wore a vacant expression, and had his eyes closed. Beyond his car, the grass in the ditch and in the field was sparse and brown. It hadn’t rained for quite a while.

“He needs shootin’, all right,” the man with the pistol said. “Cut me off back there on the highway, nearly made me go in the ditch.” A rusted-out old Chevy pickup sat in front of the Toyota. “I chased him down and gave him a little scare. Taught him a lesson.”

“We aren’t on the highway,” Rhodes said.

“Nope, we’re not. He thought he’d get away from me by takin’ this dirt road, but he ’uz wrong about that. After I got him stopped, he ’uz gonna get tough with me, got out of the car and called me a bad name. I showed him the gun, and he changed his tune quick, got pretty dang polite. Got scared, too. I think he’s fainted.”

Rhodes wondered just how little the scare had been. “Guns can do that to people. Make them faint, I mean.”

“Not me,” the man said. “Don’t seem to bother you, either.”

The pistol twitched in his hand, but Rhodes didn’t say anything. He was embarrassed about the situation, which had resulted from a mistake on his part. He’d been on the way back to Clearview, the county seat of Blacklin County, from looking into an early-morning dispute between two neighbors near Thurston in the south part of the county. They’d had a little tiff about the ownership of a couple of roosters that had wandered over into the rooster-free pen of the neighbor who didn’t want his hens to be laying any fertile eggs. The dispute had become heated, with a lot of shouting and even a scuffle, and one of the wives had called the sheriff’s department.

Things had settled down soon enough, however, and the men had reached a peaceful accommodation before Rhodes got there. The accommodation apparently involved one of the roosters becoming Sunday dinner for the man whose pen had been invaded, but Rhodes didn’t delve into that.

On his way back to Clearview, Rhodes had seen the two cars parked beside the county road, just a little way off the highway. Thinking that the man slumped by the Toyota was in some kind of distress and that the other was helping him, Rhodes had turned the green-and-white county Tahoe around, pulled off on the country road, and gotten out to help.

Now, having read the situation incorrectly, he was in trouble, and it was his own fault. He didn’t like the feeling. He’d called in to Hack Jensen, the dispatcher, and told him that he was stopping to help someone, but he hadn’t sounded any alarms. Hack wouldn’t worry about him or send any backup. Even worse, when he got back to the jail, Rhodes would have to explain to Hack what had happened.

That is, he’d have to explain if he got back to the jail. Right now he wasn’t so sure he’d make it. He could hear a scratchy voice on the radio in the Tahoe. He wondered if he should try to answer it. Probably not.

“Your name’s Elroy, right?” Rhodes said to the man with the pistol.

He knew the man’s name wasn’t Elroy, but he wanted to start a conversation that didn’t involve the pistol.

“Hell, no, my name’s not Elroy. I don’t even know anybody named Elroy. What kind of name is that? I’m Kenny.”

“Kenny what?” Rhodes asked.

“Kenny Lambert.”

“Right. Kenny Lambert. Well, Kenny, I’m Sheriff Dan Rhodes, but maybe you knew that already.”

“I knew it. I guess you don’t remember me if you think I was this Elroy fella you called me, but I spent some time in that jail of yours.”

“I thought I recognized the tattoo,” Rhodes said, although it wasn’t true. “Nice work,” he added, although that wasn’t true, either.

“Had it done at Mink’s Ink. You know Mink?”

“I haven’t had the pleasure.”

“Got a nice touch with the needle. Anyway, that jail of yours is a pretty crappy place, you ask me.”

Rhodes hadn’t asked. He said, “It’s not my jail. It’s the county’s jail.”

“Whatever, it’s still crappy. I don’t think I wanna go back.”

“Not much of a way to avoid it,” Rhodes said, “considering you’re holding a gun on me, and no telling what you’ve done to your friend there.”

“He’s not my friend.”

“Even if he isn’t, I’ll have to arrest you for pulling a pistol on him.”

“Not if I shoot you.”

“Kenny, Kenny, Kenny. You’re not going to shoot me.”

Kenny looked puzzled. Rhodes had a feeling it wasn’t a new feeling for him. “I’m not?”

“Nope. If you shoot the sheriff the lawmen never give up on you. You know how it is. You’ve seen it on TV, right? You can run, but you can’t hide. They hunt you down no matter where you are.”

“They won’t find me,” Kenny said. “I got friends in Houston.”

Kenny wasn’t the sharpest blade on the knife, and Rhodes was willing to bet his friends in Houston weren’t much better. They’d probably post something on Facebook as soon as Kenny showed up at their place, assuming he could find his way there.

“Houston, Mexico, Canada, doesn’t matter,” Rhodes said. “The law will get you, and then you’ll have to go to worse places than the jail in Clearview. State prison, for one.”

“I won’t kill you, then,” Kenny said. “Just wound you a little.”

“Not going to happen, Kenny.”

“I think I peed on myself,” the man leaning against the Camry said.

Kenny turned his head at the sound of the man’s voice, and the distraction was enough for Rhodes to move forward and close the distance between him and the pistol. With his left hand Rhodes grabbed the barrel of the pistol and with his right he grabbed Kenny’s wrist. A quick twist, and Rhodes was holding the pistol in his left hand, while Kenny’s trigger finger was either broken or badly sprained.

Kenny yelled and turned back to Rhodes, who gave a turn, still holding Kenny’s wrist, and swept Kenny’s legs out from under him. Kenny fell down and writhed a little in the dirt near the man who’d peed himself.

“You broke my damn finger,” Kenny said.

“I don’t think so,” Rhodes said, putting a knee in Kenny’s back to hold him on the ground, “but we’ll get it looked at when we get you to the jail.”

Rhodes ejected the magazine from the pistol and slipped the pistol into a back pocket of his pants. He put the magazine into the other, from which he pulled out some zip-tie cuffs. He cuffed Kenny, and said, “I’m arresting you for assault on an officer. You have the right to remain silent…”

“I know my rights,” Kenny said.

“I have to tell you what they are, anyway,” Rhodes said, and he did. “Do you understand what I’ve told you?”

“Sure,” Kenny said. “I’m not stupid.”

It was a judgment that Rhodes questioned, although he didn’t say so.

“Anyway,” Kenny continued, “I didn’t assault anybody.”

“You need to read more about the law,” Rhodes said. He stood up, and got a good look at the man beside the Camry for the first time. The man was somewhere between twenty-five and thirty, wearing a pair of dark slacks and a blue short-sleeved shirt that looked like it might’ve come from Walmart, like most of the clothing bought in Blacklin County.

“Thanks for speaking up,” Rhodes said.

“This is kind of disgusting,” the man said. He had a round face and short black hair. He stood up and leaned on the Camry. He was short, his head not much higher than the car’s roof. “Fainting and peeing myself. It’s embarrassing.” He looked down at himself and then at Rhodes. “Thanks for saving me from that crazy guy. He said he was going to shoot me and gut me out like a deer. It scared me pretty bad.”

“I don’t think Kenny would’ve done that.”

“You didn’t see the look in his eyes. He meant it, all right.”

Rhodes looked down at Kenny, who looked harmless enough at the moment. The look in his eyes was mainly the meth, not meanness, although the threat was certainly bloody enough, along with the pistol, to bother somebody unused to dealing with that kind of thing.

Kenny didn’t comment on the threat. He said, “You just gonna make me lie here? I think I landed in some sticker burrs, and my finger’s broke. And grasshoppers are jumping on me.”

The dry weather had brought out the grasshoppers, and when Rhodes looked down, he saw one land on Kenny’s head.

“Grasshoppers won’t hurt you,” Rhodes said, taking Kenny’s arm and pulling him to his feet.

When Kenny was standing, Rhodes patted him down and took a wallet from the back pocket of his jeans. He checked the driver’s license and saw that Kenny’s last name was indeed Lambert and that his address was on a county road outside of Thurston.

“I didn’t say any of that stuff he told you,” Kenny said when Rhodes replaced his wallet. “I didn’t say I’d gut him out.”

“He said it, all right,” the man by the Camry said. “I’m Cal Stinson, by the way. Thanks for saving my life.”

Rhodes didn’t know Stinson, but there were a lot of people in the county he didn’t know, mostly the younger ones, which was a depressing thought.

“You live in Clearview?” Rhodes asked.

“Yessir, I do. I was headed down to Thurston to look at the old school building before they tear it down. You know about that, I guess.”

Rhodes knew. There had been some controversy about it, as there always was when a historic building was to be demolished. The town had been using it for a community center, but the place was about to fall down. Some people didn’t want to go inside because they were afraid the place might collapse on them. A new metal building was to be constructed to replace it.

“My grandma went to school in the old building,” Cal said. “Lots of people’s ancestors from that part of the county went there. It’s a shame it has to be destroyed.”

Rhodes didn’t want to get into that. Neither did Kenny.

“My finger’s broke,” Kenny said, “and all you can talk about is some old building. I need a doctor.”

Cal ignored him. “I can’t go anywhere looking like this. I’ll have to go back home and change my pants.”

“Oughta wear Depends if you’re gonna cut people off on the highway,” Kenny said.

“Tell me what happened,” Rhodes said to Cal.

“Son of a bitch cut me off,” Kenny said.

“I didn’t ask you,” Rhodes said.

“I didn’t cut you off,” Cal said.

“You sure did,” Kenny said, and Rhodes gave him a little shake.

“I’ve already heard your side of the story,” Rhodes said. “Now I want to hear his.”

“He’ll prob’ly lie.”

“He’d better not,” Rhodes said. “What happened, Cal?”

“I was just driving along, obeying the speed limit, and this moron came roaring up behind me, hit me in the back bumper. You can look and see. I’m sure it’s dented. Scared me pretty bad, so I pulled off onto this side road to let him get well away from me. But he turned back and jumped out of his truck and threatened to kill me.”

“That ain’t the way it happened,” Kenny said, “and I ain’t a moron.”

“You can come to the jail,” Rhodes told Cal. “You can swear out a complaint against Kenny here for making terroristic threats and for assault. We might think of a few other things, too.”

“I didn’t do none of that stuff,” Kenny said.

“He sure did,” Cal said. “Can I leave now? These pants are uncomfortable.”

“Go ahead,” Rhodes said, “but don’t forget to come by the jail later this afternoon. Do it before you go to Thurston.”

“I’ll be there,” Cal said.

He got in his car, drove a little way down the road until he found a place to turn around, and headed back toward Clearview. Rhodes bundled Kenny into the Tahoe and was tagging and bagging Kenny’s pistol when he saw a county car coming down the highway. He stood beside the Tahoe and waited.

The car stopped behind the Tahoe, and Ruth Grady, one of the deputies, got out.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

Rhodes explained as briefly as he could, with Kenny protesting occasionally from inside the Tahoe that he hadn’t done any of that stuff.

“I wasn’t expecting any backup,” Rhodes said when he’d finished telling Ruth what had happened. “You missed all the excitement.”

“I’m not backup. Hack said you weren’t answering your radio, and since I was close, he sent me out to see what was going on. He’s been trying to get in touch with you about a problem.”

“I’ve been busy,” Rhodes said. “What kind of problem?”

“Hack didn’t say.”

Rhodes wasn’t surprised. It often took Hack a long time to get to the point of anything he had to tell, and the police radio wasn’t the place for that kind of talking.

“Did he give you a hint?”

“He just said that you need to get to the mayor’s office as soon as you can.”

“But he didn’t say why?”

Ruth grinned. “He just said you were in trouble. Big trouble.”

“As usual.”

“That’s right,” Ruth said. “As usual.”

“I guess I’d better go, then,” Rhodes said.

Ruth nodded. “Probably be a good idea. Let’s get the prisoner out of your vehicle and into mine.”

“Let’s do that,” Rhodes said. “You can have Hack call a wrecker to pick up Kenny’s truck and haul it to the impound lot.”

“Sure,” Ruth said. “Come on, Kenny.”

Kenny wasn’t cooperative, but they got him moved without too much trouble. When he was stowed in Ruth’s county car, Rhodes gave Ruth the pistol and told her to put it in the evidence locker when she got to the jail.

“Will do,” Ruth said.

“You think you can handle the prisoner?”

Ruth gave Kenny a disdainful look. “You have to ask?”

“Not really,” Rhodes said.

Copyright © 2019 by Bill Crider