Bill Crider: Shotgun Saturday Night

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Bill Crider Shotgun Saturday Night
  • Название:
    Shotgun Saturday Night
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    Crossroad Press
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    Полицейский детектив / на английском языке
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Bill Crider

Shotgun Saturday Night

Chapter 1

Sheriff Dan Rhodes knew it was going to be a bad day when Bert Ramsey brought in the arm and laid it on the desk.

The arm was neatly wrapped in a sheet of clear plastic, which was circled in three places with plastic strapping tape, the kind with fibers running through it. The arm was pale and bloodless and had been cleanly severed from the torso at the shoulder.

“Got another one out in the truck,” Bert said around the wad of snuff he had tucked between his cheek and gum on the left side of his mouth. “Got a couple of legs, too, but they don’t match up with each other.”

Bert Ramsey was a short, wiry man with a sun- and wind-burned face. Rhodes had once seen a briefcase made of industrial belting leather. Ramsey’s face looked as if it were made of the same material.

Hack Jensen got up from his broken-down swivel chair by the radio and walked over to Rhodes’s desk. He was a tall, thin old man, who had always reminded Rhodes of the comedian Bud Abbott, though he certainly didn’t sound like him.

“Good Lord,” Hack said. “Where’d you find that thing?”

Ramsey reached out and touched the arm, making the plastic crackle. “Down to the old Caster place,” he said. “I been clearing brush down there.”

Bert did odd jobs all over Blacklin County, preferring to work outside and with his hands. He strung and stretched barbed wire, roofed houses, built sheds, baled hay, painted, cleared brush, and generally did whatever came to hand.

Rhodes sighed and leaned back in his chair, causing the spring underneath it to make a high-pitched squeal. “Who owns the Caster place now?” he asked.

Hack answered. “Some folks named Adams. Bought it a couple years ago.”

“That’s right,” Ramsey said. “They live down in Houston. Called me last weekend to ask about me clearing the brush.”

Rhodes slid his chair back and stood up. “I guess we better have a look in your truck and then go on out there,” he said. He walked over to a scarred hat rack that had been there since long before he had taken office and took down his hat.

“You want me to let Buddy or the new deputy know about this?” Hack asked.

“No,” Rhodes said. “Not yet. Let’s go, Bert.”

Outside, the late-August sun and the scorching westerly breeze were enough to take your breath away. As the two men walked down past the low wrought-iron fence that surrounded the jail, Rhodes looked back wistfully at the back of the window-unit air conditioner hanging from the side of the jail. Condensation from its coils was dripping down into the red dirt, turning it to mud.

Bert Ramsey’s pickup was parked in front of the walk. It was a blue Chevy S-10, and in the back Rhodes could see three more of the plastic packages, all neatly wrapped, the ends turned carefully down and bound with the strapping tape. There was another arm and the two legs Ramsey had mentioned. One of the legs was short; the other was quite a bit longer.

Rhodes laid his left hand on the hot side of the pickup and pushed his hat back slightly with his right. “I wouldn’t believe this if I weren’t seeing it,” he said.

“Me either,” Ramsey said. “And that ain’t all.”

“There’s more?”

Ramsey nodded.

“Let’s have the whole thing,” Rhodes said.

“Well,” Ramsey said, “I went down to the Caster place this mornin’ to burn some brush. I been clearin’ down there since Monday. Lots o’ brush stacked up here and there.” He paused.

“I can imagine,” Rhodes said. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and he could feel the sweat beginning to trickle down his ribs.

“Yeah,” Ramsey said. “Anyways, I went down there, and all up in one of the brush piles was these boxes.”

“What kind of boxes?”

“Just boxes. Cardboard boxes. Good, solid cardboard, though. Corrugated. All wrapped up with brown plastic tape, tight as drums. I naturally wondered what was in ‘em, seeing as how I didn’t put ‘em there. They sure as heck weren’t there when I left yesterday afternoon, late. So I opened one of ‘em up.”

“And this is what you found?”

“Yep. Scared the hell out of me, I can tell you that. A whole box full of arms and legs, just comin’ out of nowhere, almost. I don’t usually scare easy, but that set me back some. I figured I better bring ‘em in to you.”

“You said ‘boxes.’ You mean there’s more than one?”

“Two more I didn’t open,” Ramsey said. “I figured if it was arms and legs in the first one, I didn’t even want to see in the others.”

Rhodes didn’t particularly want to see, either. He’d never dealt with mass killing before, never even considered the possibility of it. Not in a place like Blacklin County. “I guess I better go on down there and check it out,” he said. “You go in the truck. I’ll follow you in the county car.”

Rhodes turned away, but Ramsey called him back. “What about these?” Ramsey asked, gesturing toward the back of his S-10.

“We’ll just have to take them with us,” Rhodes said. “I guess a few more hours in the sun won’t hurt them.”

He remembered the arm that was still in his office. He hoped that Hack would have sense enough to get it out of sight, just in case anyone happened to come by. “After we check out the other two boxes, well, we’ll just have to see.”

“I guess so,” Ramsey said, not looking any too happy about it. He got in his pickup, and Rhodes walked around to the side of the jail to get the county car. He was looking forward to turning on the air conditioner, but as soon as he did, a blast of hot air hit him in the face. It would take a while for the air to get cool enough to help.

The Caster place was about nine miles from Clearview, the county seat of Blacklin County. The road was straight and narrow, with deep ditches on either side.

Rhodes had heard that it was built in an old railroad bed, which was probably true. As he followed the little blue pickup, Rhodes thought about the body parts in the boxes. He could hardly believe that something like that could turn up in an out-of-the-way place like this, but on second thought he decided that no one would try to dispose of arms and legs in a public park in Houston, either. Or maybe they would.

In fact, the more he thought about it, the more logical it seemed. The road he was driving on was a farm-to-market road that was actually only a few miles from an interstate highway, and connected to the highway by another farm-to-market road. Someone looking to get rid of a body or two might easily come off the interstate, look for a wooded area, spot the brush piles, and leave the boxes and their grisly contents there. If whoever had dumped the boxes had been lucky, Bert Ramsey might have burned them without ever looking inside.

The thought that the boxes might have come over from the interstate made Rhodes feel a little better. He couldn’t think of anyone missing in Blacklin County, much less three or four people. At least, people weren’t disappearing right under his nose.

The blinker on Bert’s pickup began flashing for a right turn, and Rhodes followed him through a patch of white, sandy loam. They bumped across a cattle guard and then followed the rutted trail for a quarter of a mile to where Bert had stacked the brush.

The brush was in three huge piles, ready for burning. Off to one side was Bert’s tractor, with a front-end loader attached. Some of the brush had been cleared by hand, but most had been pulled or pushed up by the tractor and then stacked.

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