When the Jarrett Creek Fire Department is called to douse a blaze on the outskirts of town, they discover a grisly scene: five black young people have been murdered. Newly elected Chief of Police Samuel Craddock, just back from a stint in the Air Force, finds himself an outsider in the investigation headed by the Texas Highway Patrol. He takes an immediate dislike to John Sutherland, a racist trooper Craddock’s fears are realized when Sutherland arrests Truly Bennett, a young black man whom Craddock knows and respects. Sutherland cites dubious evidence that points to Bennett, and Craddock uncovers facts leading in another direction. When Sutherland refuses to relent, Craddock is faced with a choice that will define him as a lawman—either let the highway patrol have its way, or take on a separate investigation himself. Although his choice to investigate puts both Craddock and his family in danger, he perseveres. In the process, he learns something about himself and the limits of law enforcement in Jarrett Creek.
About the Author
Terry Shames is the Macavity Award-winning author of the Samuel Craddock mysteries A Killing at Cotton Hill, The Last Death of Jack Harbin, Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek, A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge, and The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake. She is the coeditor of Fire in the Hills, a book of stories, poems, and photographs about the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire. She grew up in Texas and continues to be fascinated by the convoluted loyalties and betrayals of the small town where her grandfather was the mayor. Terry is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.
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An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock
A Samuel Craddock Mystery
By TERRY SHAMES
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2017 Terry Shames
All rights reserved.
When I walk into the kitchen Monday morning, Jeanne is standing with her back to me, stirring oatmeal on the stove. She's still in her nightgown, and the outline of her body is visible through the sheer fabric. My breath catches. I walk up behind her, put my arms around her, and nuzzle her neck, where she says it always makes her feel weak. She shivers and nestles back into me. She smells like lemon and soap. I slip my hands up to her breasts, and she whispers, "Samuel, the oatmeal ..."
I reach over and switch off the burner. She turns around, and her mouth comes up to meet mine. We've been married for six years, and I still can't get enough of her, ever. She steps onto my feet to bring herself up closer to my height, and also because she knows it arouses me. I move my hands over her, and she begins humming that low sound she makes in her throat.
The phone begins to ring, and she stiffens. "Leave it," I say. My voice sounds strange to me, hoarse and urgent.
She clamps her arms around my neck, and I pick her up so she can wrap her legs around my waist. I carry her to the bedroom like that and slam the door to muffle the sound of the telephone. I hear the sound of the volunteer fire department whistle starting up. Thank goodness that's not for me.
* * *
When we get back to the oatmeal, she says, "You're just wound up because the cattle are coming today."
"If owning cattle gets me that wound up, I'm going to buy more," I say.
She's right. I'm happy. Ever since we moved back to Jarrett Creek, I've been planning to buy twenty head of cattle for the pasture behind the house. It's why we settled on this house to begin with. We weren't in a hurry, thinking we'd start a family first, and then add the cows after we knew what we were up against with raising a child. But no children have come along yet, so we decided a few months ago to start shopping for cattle.
The phone starts up again. "You better get it," she says. "The people bringing the cows may be lost."
She knows that's not true. It'll be work. Something's happened, and I'll have to go in. Earlier this year I was appointed chief of police here in Jarrett Creek, the youngest chief they've ever had. When Hazel Baker, the city administrator, called me into her office and suggested it, I laughed.
"Why me? I don't know anything being a police officer, much less chief."
She didn't laugh with me. "Don't play dumb with me, Samuel. I've known you since you were a little kid, and you're too smart not to know we've got a drug problem here." She was right, I did know. If I hadn't been so unprepared for her suggestion that I take over as chief, I would have asked her why she thought I was the one to solve the problem. Maybe I was too flattered to think carefully about the city council's reasons for choosing me.
The whole country went through a big upheaval after President Kennedy was shot and the Vietnam War heated up. That was almost twenty years ago. It's like a whole generation ran off the rails and straight into drugs. You wouldn't think a small town like ours would attract drug dealers, but it was looking like we weren't immune.
"Jack Knight is too old to get a handle on what's going on with all the young people," Hazel said. "You're young and smart and from around here, so you know everybody. And I can guarantee you that Jack is going to be glad to get out from under the job."
"Can't one of the deputies take over ?"
She snorted. "Eldridge is older than Jack, Doug Tilley is moving to Waco, and the less said about Johnny Pat Hruska, the better." Johnny Pat was legendary for taking six years to complete high school. A sweet man, but not the brightest candle on the birthday cake.
"How does this work? You hand me a badge and tell me I'm the police chief?"
"It's not quite that easy, but almost. Roland Newberry is the Bobtail County sheriff, and he'll have to okay it, but I don't expect he'll put up a fuss."
Seeing that I hadn't exactly figured out what I was going to do now that I was back in my hometown, I consented. Only after I said yes, without consulting Jeanne, did I find out she was opposed to it. She made her peace with it, but she's short on enthusiasm.
After I agreed to take the job, there was still the matter of me having no training, so the county paid for me to take a three-month program in Austin. Jeanne stayed in Austin with me and often drove up to see her mother in Fort Worth.
Hazel was right. Jack Knight didn't let the door hit him on the way out of office. It turned out that Tilley decided not to move to Waco after all, but he seems fine with remaining a deputy, as do the other two. I worried that the three deputies might be surly about having a chief as young as me and without a shred of experience, but if they are unhappy, they keep it to themselves.
It's Tilley on the phone. In addition to being deputy, he's also a member of the volunteer fire department. "Where the hell have you been?"
I'm startled. Tilley is a deacon in the Baptist church, and he rarely curses. "I was outside. What's the problem?"
He breathes hard for a couple of seconds before he speaks. Outside, I hear sirens in the distance, which means they've called the Bobtail Fire Department for help. Must be big. "We've got us a situation. It's bad."
He's so agitated that his explanation is garbled, but when he says bodies, I interrupt. "Where are you?"
"Out in the woods in Darktown, across the tracks and south. Past the old Mitchell place."
Excerpted from An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock by TERRY SHAMES. Copyright © 2017 Terry Shames. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
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