Authors: Terry Shames
A Killing at Cotton Hill
The Last Death of Jack Harbin
Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek
Published 2015 by Seventh Street BooksÂ®, an imprint of Prometheus Books
A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge
. Copyright Â© 2015 by Terry Shames. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopyÂing, reÂcordÂing, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, exÂcept in the case of brief quotations emÂbodied in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Characters, organizations, products, locales, and events portrayed in this novel either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
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The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:
A deadly affair at Bobtail Ridge : a Samuel Craddock mystery / by Terry Shames.
pages ; cm
ISBN 978-1-63388-046-7 (paperback) â ISBN 978-1-63388-047-4 (e-book)
Printed in the United States of America
To my parents, Adelle and Lloyd Klar
It's six a.m. and I'm lying in bed awake, ready to get up, when a pounding on my front door startles me.
“Hold on!” I holler as I step into my jeans and grab a T-shirt out of the chest of drawers.
My next-door neighbor, Jenny Sandstone, is standing on my front porch, looking like a wild woman. Her face is swollen and tear-stained, and her bundle of curly red hair is out of control. She's a big-boned woman only a couple of inches shorter than my six feet, but she's hunched over like she's in pain.
“What's the matter? You want to come in?”
“I can't come in, I have to go. It's Mamma. They just called me from the hospital in Bobtail. She had a stroke.”
I grab her hand and she clutches mine. “You're not fit to drive. Let me take you over there.”
“No, no. I can drive. But I have to ask you a favor. I hate to. I know you don't like my horses, but can you call Truly Bennett for me and ask if he can feed and water them? I'd call Truly, butÂ .Â .Â .”
“I'll take care of it. You go on and get to the hospital. And call me if you need anything. You know I'll come.”
Her mouth starts to tremble and a whimper escapes, and then she's off down the steps.
I make do with cereal so I can take care of my cows and then deal with her horses before I drive over to the hospital. What I didn't tell Jenny was that Truly Bennett has gone off to handle a cattle auction down in San Antonio, so I have to take care of the horses myself. Jenny's right, I don't like horses, but I owe a debt to her that can never be repaid: she saved my art collection from being destroyed in a fire.
As soon as I'm done feeding and watering my cows, I go up to Jenny's barn and do the same for her horses and then turn them out to pasture. I've never paid a lot of attention to them, but I know the bigger one, brown with a black mane and tail, is named Mahogany, and the black one goes by the unoriginal name of Blackie. Mahogany is the one I'm most wary of. He's a huge, retired racehorse, which Jenny says makes him more skittish than the average steed. She rides both of them, but because of her size, she looks more comfortable on Mahogany.
The whole time I'm with them, both horses look at me like they know I think they're stupid and they're figuring out how to let me know they're smarter than I think. But in the end, they can't seem to come up with a plan, so I escape while they're still mulling it over.
I wonder if I ought to take something to the hospital for Jenny. I wish Loretta Singletary was in town so I could get her to fix me up a care package of cinnamon rolls or coffee cake. But Loretta's son surprised her with a trip to Washington, DC, with his family, and she won't be back for a few more days. I stop by Flower Power and have Justine make me up a suitable bouquet to take to Jenny's mother.
At the hospital the receptionist tells me only family can visit Mrs. Sandstone, but she gives me the room number so I can wait outside for Jenny. As I turn the corner into the east wing hallway, I see Jenny standing in the corridor facing a lanky man a little taller than she is. Dressed in a lawyerly suit with a striped tie, his hair is longish and he wears rimless glasses. He looks like a throwback from the â60s.
I pause because it's clear the two of them are having a disagreement. Jenny has her hands on her hips, and the man is gesturing in appeal. Apparently getting nowhere with his argument, he runs his hands across his hair and spins away from her.
She says something, and he turns back and grabs her arm. She pulls away from him, and I figure it's time to make my presence known.
“Hey, there!” I say sharply. “What's going on?”
They both turn to look at me, startled, faces guilty, like they've been caught doing something wrong.
The man steps toward me. “Who are you?”
“Will, he's my next-door neighbor, Samuel Craddock. Samuel, this is one of the county public defenders, Wilson Landreau.”
Landreau shakes my hand. “Sorry, I'm a little on edge.” He shoots a look at Jenny and she shakes her head.
“You don't need to burden Samuel with office politics.”
“It's notÂ .Â .Â .”
“Will, I mean it.”
Jenny takes Landreau by the arm and says to me, “Samuel, would you mind going in and staying with Mamma for a minute while I see Will out to the parking lot?”
As they walk away they resume their angry whispers.
I met Jenny's mother once a few months ago when she was leaving Jenny's place. Like Jenny, Vera Sandstone is a big-boned woman, but lying in the hospital bed she looks shrunken and weathered. She taught school her whole life, and Jenny said when she retired a few years ago she took up gardening with a vengeance. That's why her face is a nice color of tan. When I met her, she had her gray hair done up in a bun, but now it's straggling down beside her face. I suspect she wouldn't like anybody seeing her like this.
The sight of her hooked up with all the tubes and contraptions makes me a little queasy. It reminds me of the way my wife Jeanne looked in the weeks before cancer claimed her. Mrs. Sandstone's eyes are closed, and the left side of her face is slack. I see no reason to wake her. But she heard me come in because she struggles to open her eyesâat least the right one. The left one barely flutters. “Who's there?” Her voice is slurred.
“Mrs. Sandstone, I'm Samuel Craddock. I live next door to Jenny. I met you a while back.”
“Samuel.” She frowns and moves one hand restlessly. “Thank God. Jenny trusts you.” She turns her face toward me and struggles to bring me into focus with her good eye.
“Listen, you stay still. No need to get stirred up. Jenny will be back in a minute.”
A frown flits across her face and she waves her right hand as if shooing a fly. “Jenny's not here?” Her voice is agitated and again she tries to focus on me.
“She'll be right back.”
“Come on over here. I need to tell you something. Before she gets back.” She beckons, her voice is an urgent whisper.
“Lie down now. Don't try to get up. I'm right here.”
I reach out and touch her hand gently, but she grabs on to it stronger than I thought possible. “I need to tell you something.” Her lips don't work the way she wants and her good side grimaces. “You need to know in case I don't make it.”
“I'm sure you're going to be fine.”
“No!” She tightens her grip. “Before Jenny comes back I need to tell you something.” She pants with the effort of speaking. “Jenny could be in danger.”
“Danger from whom?”
Her grip loosens and she sags. “I think he did something bad.” Her eyes blink open again and she strains to bring me into focus.
“You need to take it easy,” I say, patting her hand.
“She doesn't know what he did.” Her voice rises in a moan.
“What who did?”
Her breathing quickens, and one of the machines starts to beep softly. “Listen to me. Listen to me.” She pulls at my hand and I lean down. I can barely make out her words. “Will you try to find Howard? I'd feel better if I knew where he went. And .Â .Â . and,” she's searching for words, “find his first wife.”
The door opens and a short, heavy Hispanic nurse bustles in. “Mrs. Sandstone? Vera?” She looks at the machine that's beeping, presses a button to switch off the alarm, and turns a stern eye toward me. “Who are you and what are you doing in here? It's supposed to be only family here. Where's Vera's daughter?”
Before I can answer, Jenny comes back. “It's okay, Monica, I asked Mr. Craddock to keep an eye on Mamma while I stepped out.”
“He must have said something to upset her. Her pulse rate is up. She needs to stay as quiet as possible.” She shoots another accusing look at me and I try to look innocent.
Jenny's face is red and perspiring, and her hair, always a little unruly, is a tangle of damp curls. She bites her lip and says, “I had a friend here and Mamma probably heard us arguing. That might have upset her.”
Vera seems to have drifted back to sleep. Jenny smoothes her mother's hair away from her forehead. She hasn't looked at me since she came into the room. I wonder if the man she was arguing with is more than just a colleague and she's embarrassed.