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A Mountain Murder Mystery

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Enjoy the first Chapter  

 

THE SONG OF

 

Jackass Creek

 

by Darby Lee Patterson

copyright 2017

© 2017 Darby Lee Patterson

All Rights Reserved.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher:

BoltonRoadPublishing@gmail.com

FOREWORD

I have always loved reading a good mystery, one with strong characters I grew to care about and a plot that drove me forward to the end with urgency. Then, somewhere over the last decade, many mystery adventures took a turn. They started focusing on graphic descriptions of deaths and gratuitous violence. Blood was dripping from the pages, body parts scattered, new and grotesque ways of killing were devised. I had a hard time finding mysteries that didn’t force me to skip over many descriptive passages.

The Song of Jackass Creek is a return to that more gentle style of mystery writing. Yes, someone dies. After all, it is a murder mystery. But the spotlight is on the characters surrounding the event and the process of uncovering the guilty. If you’d like to be a voyeur in Redbud, population three hundred eighty-six, and get to know the characters who have made this hamlet their home; meet a big city transplant with a storied past and a young boy with big city dreams and follow the story as they tackle a crime that’s anything but simple and straightforward, I think you’ll enjoy The Song of Jackass Creek.

PRELUDE      

 

     Choker Anderson had been drinking since the afternoon whistle blew at the mill at five o'clock. The first hour, he'd put down several whiskey shooters and then moved on to a couple shots of tequila purchased for him by other guys from the mill who'd heard about the layoffs.

     By nine p.m., he'd switched over to nursing a bottle of beer, figuring that if he didn't get home and tell his wife the bad news, she'd hear it from somebody else first and there'd be hell to pay. Choker wasn't alone. There were about a dozen other guys in the Silver Stag who'd heard they'd soon be out of a job. Each one of them had given years of labor to the saw mill and had families and homes in the tiny mountain community tucked in the folds of Northern California. And they all knew there wasn't another job for them within a hundred miles, probably more.

     In the morning, there would be shockwaves running through the town where one main road held all the businesses and a scattering of small homes. Most of the population lived on modest acreage off dirt roads that cut through the pines and rolling hills and scrub oak. They would hear, and they would know that this was only the beginning. More layoffs would come and the mill, like so many others, would sooner or later be closed down.  Redbud would lose its lifeblood and become a community without a soul, home to commuters from the city and transplants from Los Angeles who would never understand the spirit of the mountains.

     Choker hated the Southern California transplants in particular. They came up the hill with their fancy cars, troubled kids and – something damn few of the locals had – enough money to build 3,000-square-foot homes on ten- and twenty-acre parcels. Now, as he sat peering through the amber that bubbled in his glass, he knew he'd be leaving it all to them: the great, naked outcropping of rock that was shaped like the beak of an eagle; the hundreds of miles of fishing streams where wild brown trout played games with less clever men; the towering pines; and the echoing winds. He and his kind would have to leave or settle for welfare. He watched Hardesty, one of the local Tomah tribe, take a shot with his pool cue and thought about how at least the Indians wouldn't have to leave. They'd have the Redbud Rancheria and its pitiful government dole.

     Choker laughed and walked over to Hardesty. He laid his hand on the man's shoulder. "Well, my frien'," he said. "Looks like they got us again. Those folks from the city."

     "Hey man, sorry about your job. I'm just waiting for the other shoe to fall," Hardesty answered, dropped his head and slowly rubbed the tip of his cue with a stub of chalk. "Heard they're gonna announce more layoffs in a couple of weeks. It's screwed man, really screwed." He squinted down the length of the cue, shot and dropped the ball in a side pocket. “It’s a matter of time for us all.”

     Choker took another swallow of beer and leaned closer to Hardesty, whose family had worked at the mill for longer than anyone could remember. "You see what they're doin', don’cha? All those tree huggers from the cities pass their so-called environmental laws and they shut us down, chase us out. You know what's next, Hardesty? They come up here. Take over. Make bedroom towns. Sound familiar? Haven't your people been through this before?"

     Hardesty picked up what was left of the chalk and worked it on his cue. He was thinking about an answer when suddenly chairs went flying away from one of the round tables that somebody quickly overturned to make room for the men who were shouting and  squaring off to fight. Rita Mae, owner of the Stag, bolted from behind the bar holding a tire iron in her fist.

     Choker assessed the situation through his alcoholic haze. It was young Birdsong and the Hazlett boy, drunk on their butts and ready to break up the place. Choker knew that Rita would handle it, no problem. He also knew it was definitely time to be moving on, before he did something stupid, like smash one of those city boys sipping imported beer at the bar smack in his clean shaven face.

     He walked out to the parking lot, looked over the tiny town, and then up at the sky. It was ablaze with stars, the kind you never get to see in the city. He swore out loud, crawled into his Ford F150 pick-up truck and headed home.

    Choker and his family lived about fifteen miles from Redbud, five miles of which was dirt road that meandered along Jackass Creek and led to his place. There were turnoffs to a smattering of other homes and to a popular camping spot that would be crowded with tourists in a few weeks with the coming of the annual Loggers’ Jamboree. That's why the sight of someone walking along the pitch-black road didn't surprise him. Idiots from the flatlands were always doing something stupid. On closer examination, Choker realized he knew this particular idiot and, although he didn’t like him one bit, he’d have to give the man a hand. It was a code in that part of the mountains.

    "What the hell? he said opening the passenger door from the inside.

     The man looked cautiously at Choker and clenched his fists nervously before stepping forward. Chris Lance was one of the newcomers who was outspoken about environmental issues and had flat-out said that logging was a lost way of life and  that the town had “better adapt or face extinction.” This had not made Chris a favorite with the locals. Nonetheless, neighbors still put aside their differences – at least for the time – when there was trouble.

     “I… ahh… guess I ran over something in the road and then I bounced into a rut. If you could help me out, I’ve got a spare.” The young man seemed a little embarrassed by his predicament.  Good, thought Choker. "No problem," he said. "Let's see how bad it’s in there."

     They rode in silence a short way, having little genuine to say to each other that wouldn’t lead to a fight, especially in Choker’s frame of mind. They rounded a bend and Chris pointed to a spot where the weeds had been crushed. "There, there it is," he directed. "Pull over anywhere."

     Choker shut down the Ford and reached into the glove compartment for his flashlight. He joined the young man on the bank that overlooked Jackass Creek where spring thaws from the high country sent water rushing over granite rocks. The sound filled the night. The melody of the creek changed with the seasons and the weather. Choker had even noticed a difference between its voice in the night and day. In the dark, its tone seemed lower and more resonant, absorbing all around it. 

     Chris’s compact pick-up had bounced into a depression of soft sand. No big deal, thought Choker. He returned to his truck and grabbed a length of chain. 

     “I really appreciate this,” Chris said. “I understand we don’t agree about everything.” He waited a moment. “And I heard about the lay-offs today.”

     “Bad news travels fast, like they say.” Choker really wasn’t interested in conversation. “Though, I don’t suspect you consider it bad news.” He lowered himself under the front axle of the small truck and wrapped the chain around it. Chris watched with his hands in his pockets. “It’s not that I’ve got anything against you personally,” the younger man said. “These are different times. If we don’t protect our environment today, it won’t be here for tomorrow. Species will become extinct.”

     “Yeah,” Choker shot back, “species like me!” He continued to work at hitching up the two vehicles as fast as possible, wanting to get away from the jerk before his temper got the best of him. “Get in there and steer.”

     Chris did as told and with little effort, the F-150 pulled the small rig back onto the road. He craned his neck out the window. “Thanks a lot, can I give you something for your trouble?”

     “Damn right,” Choker said, getting out of the pick-up to retrieve his heavy chain. “You can give me my life back. You and your friends from the city can take your flatland ideas back where they came from.”

     Chris got out of the truck grabbing his tire iron and jack. “It’s easy to blame me,”

he said. “But I’m not the one who’s destroying spotted owl habitat with a chainsaw. It’s too many years of logging without regard for the environment.”

     Choker started seeing red. He wasn’t about to stand there in the dark on a dirt road and debate environmental policy with a snot-nose kid he’d just pulled out of a ditch. “Don’t make me sorry I stopped,” he said and dropped down to unhook the chain from his truck. “I’ve been out there in the woods with those damn owls since before you were born. Don’t even start to give me no lecture about the environment.” In disgust, he dropped the heavy chain on the ground.

     Now out of the ditch and more confident, Chris positioned a flashlight to focus on the flat tire. “This isn’t about you. This is about corporate greed. They don’t give a shit about the environmental future. All they want is to clear-cut trees and make money.”

     Choker stood tall, in the dark resembling a bear. “Son, this operation has been owned by the same   family for nearly a hundred years. You don’t have a clue what you’re talkin’ about. That family has given a paycheck to thousands of other families. They made jobs and a way of life that you and your kind just plain don’t understand! I’m going home before I say or do something that I’ll regret in the morning.”  Choker crawled behind the wheel, locking his jaws like a vice grip.

     “I appreciate the help,” Chris shouted again. “Especially since you’re apparently blaming me for your bad luck.”

     Choker sat there for a moment thinking … bad luck? Bad luck? The layoffs had nothing to do with luck and everything to do with people like him. Choker really wanted to teach this kid a lesson.

He started the big engine and gunned it for effect. He took a deep breath and headed slowly up the road, feeling his blood pressure rise. Even with a few drinks under his belt, he could make mincemeat of that green whiner. And, son-of-a-bitch, he’d left his chain back there on the ground.