IDAHO’S BLIGHT COUNTY sheriff, Bo Tully, scanned the ridge above his log house with binoculars. Nothing. Still too dark to make out anything beyond the tree line. He sighed, letting the binoculars dangle down his chest. Behind him on the porch, a little brown-and-white dog perched on a padded bar stool. The dog watched the sheriff intently, as if sensing some danger.
Tully glanced at the dog. “Still too dark to see anything, Clarence. You don’t have to worry, anyway. It’s me he’s after, not you.”
Clarence laid his chin down on his paws.
“Sure,” Tully said to him. “Now you relax!”
The sun began to rise over the ridge to the east. Soon its rays penetrated the tree line on the west ridge. Tully, wearing khakis, a red-and-blue tattersall shirt, a well-aged leather jacket, and his three-thousand-dollar alligator-skin cowboy boots, raised the binoculars and again scanned the woods. A deer stood there, gazing down at the meadow. A good sign. Tully could detect no movement among the trees. He turned at the sound of a motor. A pickup truck was coming down the road that wound across the meadow to his house. Deputy Brian Pugh pulled up and got out of the truck. He was wearing jeans, a sweatshirt, and a baseball cap. He was ridiculously trim and fit. His squinty eyes gave his face a hard look, softened a bit by the brown mustache that adorned his upper lip. A sheriff’s department badge was fastened to a pocket of his faded jeans.
The dog raised his head off his paws and growled.
“Shut up, Clarence,” Pugh said as he came up the porch steps. “I don’t like criminals growling at me.” He was referring to the little dog’s several arrests for hiding under cars and biting people on the ankles, usually a little old lady with an armload of packages. Clarence stopped growling.
Tully said, “You wouldn’t like a nice little dog, would you, Pugh?”
“No way. You were supposed to take Clarence out in the woods and knock him off. It’s not my fault you’re turning soft.”
“Don’t let it get around. Anyway, I’ve got a place all fixed up for you by the window in the studio upstairs. The rifle is sighted in at three hundred yards. That should give you a dead-on shot.”
“How can I be sure it’s Kincaid?”
“I’ve got a major spotting scope up there. At three hundred yards, you should be able to pick out the sex of a mosquito on his face. I suspect he may be wearing that stupid cap of his, the red-and-black-plaid one with the earflaps tied up on top. Besides, he’ll have a rifle with him. Shouldn’t be anybody up there with a rifle in June.”
“You want me to kill him, right?” Pugh said.
Tully gave him his crooked smile, a look known to the members of his department as The Look.
Tully got up and opened the door for Pugh. “As you know, I’ve got company coming today—lots of it. So don’t be poking the rifle barrel out the window. No point in making folks nervous. I fixed you up a comfortable chair and a good rest for the rifle. I guess you know your way up to the studio.”
“One other thing, Pugh.”
Pugh went inside just as a large flatbed truck came lumbering down the road. The bed of the truck was piled high with green picnic tables and benches. They had been collected from the city park by two of the sheriff’s deputies. The truck stopped three-quarters of the way down the road. Men got out and began unloading the tables and benches and arranging them about the meadow. They had done all this before. Shortly thereafter, pickup trucks began arriving with coolers stacked in the beds, the wild-game contents of his deputies’ freezers. This was the fourth annual Sheriff Bo Tully Empty the Freezer Day, one of the greatest political ploys ever committed in the entire history of Blight County, perhaps even in the history of Idaho or even of the United States. Tully couldn’t help but smile.
A couple hours later, cars began turning off the highway and parking in the upper part of the meadow. The occupants got out and came down the road carrying shovels and axes. They began digging holes in the sod of the meadow and lining the holes with rocks. Some of the men carried firewood and piled it next to the holes. Soon a dozen fires were burning in the meadow, an area Tully usually referred to as his yard. Iron racks were set up next to some of the fires, while others were fitted out with grills.
By noon, slabs of deer and elk ribs were roasting on the iron racks. Grills simmered with smoked elk sausages, elk and venison steaks, and various kinds of ground meat patties—deer, elk, bear, moose, antelope, sheep, porcupine, and enough mystery meats to cover most of the other wild animal species of Idaho. Tully had once tried what turned out to be a weasel patty and from then on had taken care to avoid all mystery meats.
One large bed of coals contained foil-wrapped packages of sliced potatoes and onions. Huge skillets of grouse gravy bubbled on two charcoal grills. Smoked kokanee salmon protruded in pink and golden patinas out of greasy boxes. Tables were laden with double rows of salads—potato, pasta, Jell-O, carrot-raisin, coleslaw, ambrosia, layered, sauerkraut, four-bean, and fruit. All of the salads had been provided by residents of Blight County, along with enough pies to cover the tops of several tables. Assorted local bands took turns furnishing the musical background.
By one o’clock Sheriff Bo Tully’s Freezer Day was in full gluttonous uproar. Local politicians and their spouses filled two tables that had been pushed together. They glanced enviously around at the partying crowd. Why hadn’t one of them thought of this scam?
Tully smiled. Absently scratching an itch through his shirt, he made a rough calculation of the number of votes represented in his yard and meadow, more than enough, he calculated, to guarantee his winning the next election hands-down, in the unlikely event he even had an opponent. The citizens of Blight County loved him, particularly the women. His close scrutiny of the crowd, however, had little to do with votes. His interest lay in one Lucas Kincaid, a nasty piece of work if ever there was one.
After serving only two months of a life sentence for murder and the cultivation and sale of marijuana, Kincaid had somehow escaped from a prison van hauling him to a hospital for a mental evaluation that Tully himself could have provided—crazy! Kincaid had left the two guards accompanying him dead, not because of any necessity related to his escape but, Tully mused, probably as an afterthought. The homicidal maniac had soon let it be known about the county that his first order of business was to kill the man who had put him in prison, one Sheriff Bo Tully. Some people are such sore losers.
Tully’s eyes fixed on a figure advancing toward him through the crowd. It was a very nice figure. The pretty blond woman wore a white dress distinguished mostly for its brevity, one of Tully’s favorite elements of female fashion. Coming up to the porch, she held out her hand. Tully leaped to his feet, grasped the hand, and gave it a little squeeze.
The young woman laughed. “You are even more handsome than my aunt let on,” she said, her blue eyes twinkling.
“How is that possible?” Tully said. “And exactly who is this extraordinarily perceptive aunt? More to the point, who are you, sweetheart?”
She tried to pull back her hand but Tully refused to let it go. In such cases, he didn’t believe in catch-and-release.
“Bunny Hunter,” she said, laughing. “My aunt is Agatha Wrenn. Actually, she is my great-aunt.”
Tully dropped her hand. “Agatha! Agatha sent her young and beautiful niece to see me? She must be in the grip of Alzheimer’s.”
“Not at all,” Bunny said, smiling as she unstuck a wisp of blond hair from her perspiring face. “Her mind is very sharp, even the more so for someone up in her eighties. In fact before sending me on this mission, she warned me extensively about you. So I am well prepared to fend off your charms, should you attempt to display any.”
“And here I thought I already had,” Tully said. “My supply of charms must be running low today. So what can I do for you, Miss Hunter? Or, rather, for your Aunt Agatha? She and her friend Bernice, by the way, just happen to be two of my most favorite people in the entire world.” He sat down on a porch step and motioned for Bunny to sit down beside him. “Please have a step, Miss Hunter.”
“Thanks,” she said, sitting down and demurely smoothing her dress, which reached almost halfway to her dimpled knees.
“Now tell me,” Tully said, “exactly what is the mission Aunt Agatha has sent you on?”
“I’m to persuade you to solve a mystery for her.”
Bunny laughed. “This one is really weird, though. I’m embarrassed even to bring it up but I promised I would. She wants you to find out if her father—my great-grandfather—was murdered and, if so, by whom.”
“I see. And what makes Agatha think her father may have been murdered?”
At that moment a pixyish little man strode by, his hat pulled down onto his ears, his hands thrust deep into his pockets.
“Petey!” Tully roared.
The little man jumped and spun around. “Bo! You scared me half to death!”
“I thought I had you in jail, Petey!”
“You did, Bo! I got sprung yesterday!”
“Oh? Well, in that case, have a good time. Stop by the pie table. My mom’s ramrodding it. Tell her I said to give you something special.”
“I’ll tell her you said so, Bo.” Petey went on his way.
“Sorry about that,” he said to Bunny, who wore a startled expression. “I have a hard time keeping track of my criminals.”
“I can see that.” She went on to answer his question. “Agatha’s father disappeared one day back in 1927. His helper, Sean O’Boyle, a boy of about fourteen, disappeared with him. One day they went off to work a small gold mine they had hidden away in the Snowy Mountains and were never seen nor heard from again. Agatha claims her mother told her that her father wasn’t the kind of man to run off like that. All these years, Agatha has wondered what happened to the two of them. She believes they must have been murdered or maybe killed in a mine cave-in. Agatha says you can figure out if they were murdered and, if so, who did it. She thinks you’re a genius.”
“Really? Well, she has always been extraordinarily perceptive. I became aware of it when I was one of her students at the U. of I. Oddly, I don’t recall she thought I was a genius back in those days.”
“She does now. Anyway, may I tell Aunt Agatha you will look into the mystery? I realize there’s no chance you could solve a crime that old, even if there was one, but maybe you could at least pretend to, for Agatha’s sake.”
“Pretend! You’ve got to be kidding, Miss Hunter. Of course I’ll come up and solve the mystery. As it happens I’ve been thinking of taking a vacation and getting out of town for a while. Solving this little puzzle sounds like just the kind of vacation I most enjoy. Are you by any chance hanging out at the ranch?”
Bunny laughed. “Why, yes I am. I’m staying there for the summer to work on the dissertation for my doctorate in American studies at Washington State University.”
“Wonderful!” Tully said. “You couldn’t have a better mentor around than Agatha.”
“That’s for sure. Well, I hope you’ll stop by the ranch soon.”
“You can count on it.”
Bunny gave Tully a blazing smile, stood up, and dusted off the seat of her tiny dress, a gesture that caused Tully’s heart to skip two beats. She disappeared into the crowd of picnickers.
Yes, Tully thought, he would definitely make a point of driving up to Quail Creek Ranch. Might even work up a scheme to kill two birds with one stone. Well, maybe three birds, counting Bunny.
A trim, elderly man with close-cropped white hair walked out onto the porch. He carried a steaming plate of shrimp. “Who’s the babe?”
“None of your business,” Tully said. “You’re much too old to be eyeing a woman like that. Could bring on a heart attack.”
“I did feel a twinge when she brushed off her seat,” Pap Tully said.
“Not a bad way to go, though.”
Tully smiled at his father. “Never ends, does it?”
“Nope, it don’t.”
“So where did the shrimp come from? They smell wonderful!”
“Anything does, cooked in butter and garlic. There’s a guy in your kitchen cooking up huge piles of them.”
“Really? I better pay this mystery chef a visit.”
“He seems to have about a ton of shrimp. Said his seafood truck broke down outside of Blight, so he figured he might as well bring the shrimp over for your Freezer Day. Saw one of your posters on a utility pole. Man, I wish I’d have had enough sense to come up with this scam when I was sheriff.”
Tully chuckled. “I reckon this was the only scam you missed.” He walked into the house and picked up a plate from a stack on his living-room table. A man in Tully’s “Wild in the Kitchen” camouflage apron was at his range, scooping heaps of shrimp onto the plate of a plump young woman. “They smell divine!” she said.
Tully stepped up and held out his plate. “Nice apron.”
“Thanks. I found it in that closet over there.”
“Where did you come from anyway?”
The mystery chef looked up from his skillet. His gray hair was longish but trimmed in an expensive cut. Wire-rimmed glasses sat low on his nose, which glistened with sweat. “And you are?”
“I’m the guy who owns the kitchen.”
“Ah, the famous Bo Tully, sheriff and artist. I’m Sid Brown, owner of the Giggling Loon Restaurant in Boise.” He held out his hand. Tully shook it. “You have a very nice kitchen here, Sheriff. And please don’t view my intrusion as an intrusion.”
“Not at all, Sid. In fact, your shrimp appear to be the highlight of my Freezer Day. I hope your truck breaks down every time you haul shrimp through Blight.”
“Actually, I had another truck come up from Boise to haul out the halibut and salmon. I decided to hold back the shrimp, though, after I saw a poster about your Freezer Day. I’ve been a big fan of your painting for years.”
“Yes, indeed. I have four of your watercolors hanging in my restaurant and two more on the walls at home.”
“Six of my watercolors! You’re obviously rich.”
“I am rich, but I got your watercolors back when they were still cheap.”
Tully smiled and sampled a shrimp. “They sold a lot better when they were cheap. Sid, these shrimp are delicious. You can come to my Freezer Day anytime.”
“You’re a terrific artist, Bo. I bought all the paintings from Jean Runyan’s gallery in Spokane. Jean’s been talking you up for years. Wants to put on a one-man show for you.”
“It’s a pretty small gallery, but I would love a show.”
“She says she would try to put it in the mezzanine of the Davenport Hotel.”
“Wow, the Davenport. That’s pretty classy.”
“You bet it’s classy. And she wants the loan of my paintings along with whatever you have or can collect.”
Tully held out his plate for shrimp. Sid heaped it full. Tully picked up one and ate it. He smacked his lips. “You’re definitely an artist with shrimp, Sid.”
“I love any kind of art. I had it all to do over again, I’d try to be an artist. I think being an artist is the best kind of life there is.”
“Yeah, it beats chasing criminals, I can tell you that. Right now I’ve got a criminal chasing me, which is even worse.”
“I heard about that homicidal maniac,” Sid said. “I guess just about everyone around here has.” He pointed at a painting on Tully’s living-room wall. “Say, I don’t suppose you’d sell me that big oil of the girl coming through the door with a bouquet of wildflowers.”
Tully turned and looked at the painting. “Naw, afraid not. That’s my wife.”
“She’s beautiful. I’d love to meet her. I had no idea you were married.”
“Yeah, that’s kind of a problem. I have the feeling I’m still married to Ginger, but she died ten years ago. Foolish, huh?”
“I don’t know. I kind of like the idea.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” Tully said. “I still date other women.”
“That’s what I hear.”
“No doubt. Everybody hears that. It’s mostly because of my mother. She’s Gossip Central in Blight City. Anyway, I did that painting of Ginger just a couple of years ago. Did it from memory. I retained the image of Ginger coming through the door with the bouquet of wildflowers all that time, right down to the last detail.”
He picked up another plate and asked Sid to fill it with shrimp. “I got kind of an invalid up in the studio. I better take him up some shrimp, before he starts raising a fuss.”
Deputy Brian Pugh was sweeping the spotting scope back and forth, studying the tree line on top of the ridge.
“Heard me coming up the stairs, huh, Pugh?”
“You know me, Bo, nothing if not vigilant. I was starting to wonder when you might get up here with some of that shrimp. The aroma has been driving me crazy.” He picked up a shrimp by the tail, munched it, and then moaned with pleasure. “You can have me watch your back anytime.”
“I plan to,” Tully said. “I don’t suppose you’ve put the scope on any pretty ladies.”
“Like a blonde in a tiny white dress? No, sir, I’ve been focused entirely on bad guys with rifles sneaking through the woods.”
“Yeah, right. Speaking of bad guys, I don’t like the idea of being used as bait for Lucas Kincaid.”
“Hey, it was your idea, Bo.”
“Yeah. Not one of my better ones though. I’m a sitting duck here in town. I think we’d better move our operation to the mountains.”
“You’re the boss. But the mountains are home for Kincaid. I think he will be a lot tougher to nail up there.”
“Yeah, well, you’ll be happy to know that I’m going to take off a week and go camping up north with Pap.” He studied his deputy’s face. “Your expression tells me you think I’m afraid of Lucas Kincaid. Listen, Brian, I’ve had a lot smarter men than Lucas try to kill me and they’re all either dead or in prison. So I don’t want you or any of the other deputies to think I’m running off because of Kincaid.”
“How about a tiny white dress?”
“That’s a different matter.”
Pugh stretched and yawned. He turned and stared up at the tree line. “I don’t suppose you want to let me know where you’re camping?”
“I was going to bring that up. It’s that old campsite on Deadman Creek. You know the one. There used to be horse-packing operations out of there, and part of the old corral is still standing.”
“That the one with a ridge above it?”
“Yeah, you can see the ridge from the camp and the camp from the ridge. Otherwise the trees are pretty thick around it. It’s terrific deer hunting, but you have to be able to shoot quick. I nailed a deer up on the ridge from the camp, though. Good elk hunting, too. There’s some clear country higher up and lots of times you can even get a rest for a long shot.”
“I’ll give it a try sometime.”
Tully returned to the porch to find his bulky deputy Buck Toole talking to the local Catholic priest, Father James Flynn, who was sitting in Tully’s rocker. Clarence was baring his teeth at the priest. “Make yourself at home, Flynn,” Tully said. “And don’t mind Clarence. He’s a Protestant.”
“You showed up just in time, Bo,” the priest said. “I made the mistake of complimenting Buck on his scars, and I think he’s about to take off his shirt to show me some more.”
Two years before, Buck had spent several weeks in the hospital recovering from gunshot wounds. Tully was fairly sure the shots had been meant for him, not Buck. They both had been driving red sheriff’s department Ford Explorers. He said, “Forget the body scars, Buck. The only worthwhile scars are those on your face, and you have a couple of nice ones. Make him far handsomer than he was before, don’t you think, Flynn?”
“That’s hard to imagine.”
“I know. He’s still ugly as sin but at least the scars give him some character.”
“Thanks,” the deputy said. “It’s nice to be appreciated.”
Pap strolled up. “I’ve got a lot more impressive scars than Buck.” He started to unbutton his shirt.
Tully said, “I just explained scars don’t amount to much if you’ve got to unbutton your shirt every time you want to show them off. What happened, Padre—this was back in the sixties—three bad guys were holed up behind a pile of logs. The other law-enforcement guys were using common sense and waiting them out. Pap showed up, walked over the log pile, and killed all three of them with a pump shotgun, but not before they put a few bullets in him. He later got a medal from the governor for stupidity beyond the call of reason.”
“Heroism!” Pap corrected. After pointing out the little pucker marks from the bullets, he buttoned his shirt back up.
“Very impressive,” the priest said.
“Don’t encourage him, Flynn,” Tully said. “By the way, you make a contribution to my Freezer Day?”
“You bet. The toughest elk meat ever visited upon the folks of Blight County.”
“I told you not to shoot, but would you listen? No.”
“I never listen to a heathen when it comes to shooting the biggest elk I’ve ever seen,” the priest said. “Speaking of hunting, I hope your friends are taking good care of the birds on their ranch.”
“I assume you are talking about Quail Creek Ranch. You’re just lucky, Flynn, that you get to associate with a person dearly beloved by the owners of that property. As a matter of fact, they put in a new guzzler for the birds up in the high country.”
“Guzzler?” said the priest. “What’s a guzzler?”
“It’s a big tub-like thing that catches rainwater and stores it for the birds. Guzzlers are one reason Quail Creek Ranch provides fantastic bird hunting over several thousand acres. They’ve got three or four scattered around.”
“The quail have a creek to drink from.”
“Not in the high country. It’s very dry up where the chukars hang out.”
“Those are two of the orneriest old women in the country,” Pap said. “But they do love Bo.”
“Hey, don’t talk about my friends that way,” Tully said.
“It’s just that all the ladies love Bo,” Pap said.
“You still dating the medical examiner?” Flynn asked.
“I ain’t touching that one,” Buck said.
“Me, neither,” said Pap. “Not with the padre sitting here.”
Tully chose not to mention that Susan Parker had tired of him and taken up with an airline pilot.
Just then a freckled kid in bib overalls came by. He was gnawing on a rib. He stopped and looked at Clarence. “That your dog, Bo?”
“Can I pet him?”
“If you want to, Richy. Matter of fact, I’ll give him to you.”
Richy walked up on the porch and over to Clarence. “Dang! He tried to bite me, Bo! I don’t want no dog that bites!”
“I figured you might be picky,” Tully said. “If you know some fellows don’t mind a minor flaw in a dog, send them over to me, okay, Richy?”
The kid stomped off.
Tully stretched and yawned. “Well, it’s getting to be a long day, guys. I better let you folks hold down the porch here, while I stop by the office and wake up my skeleton crew. Buck, I got Pugh up in the studio, probably napping. Tell him he might as well go home.”
“I bet you got him on the lookout for Kincaid,” Buck said. “Shucks, old Lucas would be crazy, try to kill you.”
“He is crazy, Buck.”
© 2009 Patrick F. Mcmanus
A Sheriff Bo Tully Mystery
The Double-Jack Murders
A Sheriff Bo Tully Mystery
Sheriff Bo Tully is the kind of western lawman who’s as good with the ladies as he is with his guns, and he never lets a death threat get in the way of a good barbecue. In this latest tale, Tully pursues a seventy-five-year-old missing persons case in which a pair of gold miners (a two-man drilling team known as a double-jack) mysteriously disappeared just as they hit the mother lode in a remote part of Blight County. Meanwhile, a second, more threatening case looms large. After serving only two months of a life sentence, a mentally unstable murderer named Kincaid—a nasty piece of work if there ever was one—manages to escape prison, setting his sights on killing the man who put him behind bars: one Sheriff Bo Tully.