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 completely
bald, 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 get
that 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.
WHEN TURLEY HAD GONE AND RHODES HAD STOWED THE tooth, Hack said, “I wonder where Squirrelly's runnin' buddy was? Usually those tinfoil hat boys stick together.”
“You mean Larry Colley?” Rhodes said.
“That's the one. Those two been huntin' Bigfoot together since they were teenagers. That is, when they weren't gettin' abducted by flyin' saucers or pickin' up radio signals from the CIA through the fillin's in their teeth.”
“It's only Larry who got abducted,” Lawton said. “Bud's never got over it, if you ask me. Larry kinda holds it over him.”
“Well, his Bigfoot tooth oughta put him back in the race,” Hack said.
“Yeah,” Lawton said. “Larry'll be mighty put out if Bud's found Bigfoot without him.”
“Bigfoot,” Hack said. “How much danger do you think there is of him really havin' found one? Or even a part of one?”
“Not a whole lot. That's sure a big tooth, though.”
“Too big, if you ask me. Even Bigfoot wouldn't have a tooth like that. You think it's real, Sheriff?”
Rhodes said it looked real enough to him.
“We oughta analyze it ourselves,” Lawton said. “Send it to our crime lab.”
“Right,” Hack said. “It could be the first episode of
CSI: Blacklin County
. Now there's a hit TV show if I ever heard of one.”
Rhodes laughed. Their crime lab wasn't exactly state of the art. In fact, he wasn't sure there was a crime lab in the state that matched the kind of thing people saw on TV. Houston had certainly had its problems because of its lab, and a lot of people were getting out of prison because the evidence against them didn't hold up under independent examination. Hundreds of cases were being reopened. Maybe thousands.
“I don't think any answer our lab came up with would satisfy Bud,” Rhodes said. “He's picked his own man, so we'll wait for his expert.”
“Well,” Hack said, “maybe that Vance fella can tell us whether that tooth came from a Bigfoot or not. And maybe he can't. No matter where it came from, though, I'd just as soon not be mixed up with Larry and Bud. The wonder of it is why somebody didn't do away with those two a long time ago.”
Rhodes had often thought the same thing. Turley and Colley had few friends in Blacklin County. They earned a bare living as shade-tree mechanics, although they didn't actually do any jobs under a tree. They worked on cars, trucks, tractors, and lawn mowers in an old barn behind Turley's house.
They couldn't do much with recently built engines, since they didn't have a computer or any other modern equipment, but they
still managed to find a few customers among people who owned older vehicles and hoped to save a little money. Lawn mowers were a big part of their business. It seemed that mowers were always breaking down.
There had been several complaints against the two men for overcharges, and Colley had been arrested a time or two for his unorthodox collection methods, which included showing up at a person's front door armed with a baseball bat and a threatening manner. A couple of broken windshields figured into things as well.
Both Colley and Turley had been arrested more than once for their involvement in bar fights that had escalated into general brawls. Witnesses had at first claimed that the two friends had instigated the fighting, but all the witnesses had retracted those statements sooner or later, usually, or so it was said, after a visit by Turley or Colley or both. There was no proof of that, though, as it was a matter that none of the witnesses wanted to discuss, either on or off the record.
Neither Colley nor Turley had ever been convicted of anything, not even of littering, which Rhodes thought was too bad. If Turley had a record, he wouldn't be walking around with a concealed handgun.
“You know, Sheriff,” Hack said, breaking into Rhodes's train of thought, “we have had a few calls lately about funny things goin' on around Big Woods.”
“That's just hogs,” Lawton said. “They're takin' the county.”
Lawton was right. According to one estimate Rhodes had seen, there were a million and a half feral hogs in Texas, but most people thought that that guess was far too low and that the actual number of feral hogs was at least twice that large. Sometimes it seemed to Rhodes that there were at least a million and a half of
them roaming around in Blacklin County, damaging fences, rooting up the bottomlands, destroying wildlife habitat, ruining crops, and even eating small animals like baby goats, calves, and fawns. It was like a bad Hollywood movie from the early seventies, the kind Rhodes loved to watch on late-night TV back in the days when such movies were actually run during the wee hours.
A little like
, maybe. Or, even more likely,
Night of the Lepus,
the one in which the National Guard had to be called in to save mankind from the giant mutant bunny rabbits. Except that nobody was calling out the Guard to fight the hogs. Farmers and ranchers were doing most of it on their own, but it was a losing battle. If people thought that rabbits reproduced rapidly, then they should consider the hogs, which ran them a close second.
Rhodes had once had an encounter with feral hogs, up close and personal as they said on TV, and he'd wound up spending some time in the hospital. It had been a few years, but it wasn't an experience he cared to repeat.
“You ever eat any of that feral hog meat?” Hack asked. “They say the young ones taste pretty good.”
Rhodes said he wouldn't touch it. He knew too much about the diseases the hogs carried and the kind of things they'd eat, which included everything. The hogs didn't care. They'd eat sewage if it was the only thing available.
“I don't think I'd eat one, either,” Hack said. “How about you, Lawton?”
“I'd just as soon eat a possum.”
“Possum's not so bad,” Hack said.
Lawton made a face. “Man that would eat a possum would eat a raccoon.”
“Raccoon's not so bad,” Hack said. “Not as good as possum, though.”
“What about armadillo?” Lawton said. “Would you eat an armadillo?”
“If it was cooked in chili, I would. Armadillo chili's pretty good.”
Rhodes didn't want to get into the culinary discussion, so he just listened while Hack defended several unlikely delicacies and Lawton made occasional gagging noises.
When he'd aggravated Lawton about as much as he could, Hack turned his chair so that he could see Rhodes and said, “So we got wild hogs and Bigfoot, not to mention Bud Squirrelly and Larry Colley. What next?”
Rhodes said that he didn't know but there was always something.
“Who was it used to say that?” Lawton asked.
“Roseanne Roseannadanna,” Hack said.
“Well,” Lawton said, “she had a point.”
Lawton was right, but the rest of the day, while busy, was mostly routine.
A man called up to say that he was on probation but had been out sinning and wanted to be jailed while he repented. Rhodes was glad to accommodate him, as he was wanted for questioning in a daylight burglary that had occurred a couple of days earlier.
An auto repair shopâa legitimate one, not the one run by Colley and Turleyâreported that a stack of inspection stickers had been stolen.
A cow had escaped from a pasture and was wandering down a county road.
A tractor had disappeared from a barn on a farm near Thurston, and the owner wanted immediate action.
Someone called to say that there was a dead animal in the middle of the road near the town of Obert.
Then they got the call about the Bigfoot sighting.