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Someone is trying to kill Jenny Sandstone and she might know who it is. But how can Samuel Craddock protect her when she seems hell-bent on protecting the attempted killer's identity?
Craddock has learned to accept that his neighbor and friend Jenny's personal life is strictly secret. But when her dying mother tells him that Jenny is in danger, Craddock is confronted with a dilemma. He wants to respect Jenny's privacy, but he is haunted by the urgency in the dying woman's voice.
Then when Jenny is the victim of a suspicious car accident, Craddock has no choice but to get involved. He demands that she tell him what he needs to know to protect her and to solve the mysteries surrounding the strange events that began taking place as soon as Jenny’s mother passed away.
Forced to confront the past, Jenny plunges into a downward spiral of rage and despair. She is drinking heavily and seems bent on self-destruction. Craddock must tread lightly as he tries to find out who is behind the threats to her. But only by getting to the bottom of the secrets buried in Jenny’s past can he hope to save her both from herself and from whoever is out to harm her.
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A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge
A Samuel Craddock Mystery
By TERRY SHAMES
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2015 Terry Shames
All rights reserved.
It's six a.m. and I'm lying in bed awake, ready to get up, when a pounding on my front door startles me.
"Hold on!" I holler as I step into my jeans and grab a T-shirt out of the chest of drawers.
My next-door neighbor, Jenny Sandstone, is standing on my front porch, looking like a wild woman. Her face is swollen and tear-stained, and her bundle of curly red hair is out of control. She's a big-boned woman only a couple of inches shorter than my six feet, but she's hunched over like she's in pain.
"What's the matter? You want to come in?"
"I can't come in, I have to go. It's Mamma. They just called me from the hospital in Bobtail. She had a stroke."
I grab her hand and she clutches mine. "You're not fit to drive. Let me take you over there."
"No, no. I can drive. But I have to ask you a favor. I hate to. I know you don't like my horses, but can you call Truly Bennett for me and ask if he can feed and water them? I'd call Truly, but ..."
"I'll take care of it. You go on and get to the hospital. And call me if you need anything. You know I'll come."
Her mouth starts to tremble and a whimper escapes, and then she's off down the steps.
I make do with cereal so I can take care of my cows and then deal with her horses before I drive over to the hospital. What I didn't tell Jenny was that Truly Bennett has gone off to handle a cattle auction down in San Antonio, so I have to take care of the horses myself. Jenny's right, I don't like horses, but I owe a debt to her that can never be repaid: she saved my art collection from being destroyed in a fire.
As soon as I'm done feeding and watering my cows, I go up to Jenny's barn and do the same for her horses and then turn them out to pasture. I've never paid a lot of attention to them, but I know the bigger one, brown with a black mane and tail, is named Mahogany, and the black one goes by the unoriginal name of Blackie. Mahogany is the one I'm most wary of. He's a huge, retired racehorse, which Jenny says makes him more skittish than the average steed. She rides both of them, but because of her size, she looks more comfortable on Mahogany.
The whole time I'm with them, both horses look at me like they know I think they're stupid and they're figuring out how to let me know they're smarter than I think. But in the end, they can't seem to come up with a plan, so I escape while they're still mulling it over.
I wonder if I ought to take something to the hospital for Jenny. I wish Loretta Singletary was in town so I could get her to fix me up a care package of cinnamon rolls or coffee cake. But Loretta's son surprised her with a trip to Washington, DC, with his family, and she won't be back for a few more days. I stop by Flower Power and have Justine make me up a suitable bouquet to take to Jenny's mother.
At the hospital the receptionist tells me only family can visit Mrs. Sandstone, but she gives me the room number so I can wait outside for Jenny. As I turn the corner into the east wing hallway, I see Jenny standing in the corridor facing a lanky man a little taller than she is. Dressed in a lawyerly suit with a striped tie, his hair is longish and he wears rimless glasses. He looks like a throwback from the '60s.
I pause because it's clear the two of them are having a disagreement. Jenny has her hands on her hips, and the man is gesturing in appeal. Apparently getting nowhere with his argument, he runs his hands across his hair and spins away from her.
She says something, and he turns back and grabs her arm. She pulls away from him, and I figure it's time to make my presence known.
"Hey, there!" I say sharply. "What's going on?"
They both turn to look at me, startled, faces guilty, like they've been caught doing something wrong.
The man steps toward me. "Who are you?"
"Will, he's my next-door neighbor, Samuel Craddock. Samuel, this is one of the county public defenders, Wilson Landreau."
Landreau shakes my hand. "Sorry, I'm a little on edge." He shoots a look at Jenny and she shakes her head.
"You don't need to burden Samuel with office politics."
"It's not ..."
"Will, I mean it."
Jenny takes Landreau by the arm and says to me, "Samuel, would you mind going in and staying with Mamma for a minute while I see Will out to the parking lot?"
As they walk away they resume their angry whispers.
I met Jenny's mother once a few months ago when she was leaving Jenny's place. Like Jenny, Vera Sandstone is a big-boned woman, but lying in the hospital bed she looks shrunken and weathered. She taught school her whole life, and Jenny said when she retired a few years ago she took up gardening with a vengeance. That's why her face is a nice color of tan. When I met her, she had her gray hair done up in a bun, but now it's straggling down beside her face. I suspect she wouldn't like anybody seeing her like this.
The sight of her hooked up with all the tubes and contraptions makes me a little queasy. It reminds me of the way my wife Jeanne looked in the weeks before cancer claimed her. Mrs. Sandstone's eyes are closed, and the left side of her face is slack. I see no reason to wake her. But she heard me come in because she struggles to open her eyes—at least the right one. The left one barely flutters. "Who's there?" Her voice is slurred.
"Mrs. Sandstone, I'm Samuel Craddock. I live next door to Jenny. I met you a while back."
"Samuel." She frowns and moves one hand restlessly. "Thank God. Jenny trusts you." She turns her face toward me and struggles to bring me into focus with her good eye.
"Listen, you stay still. No need to get stirred up. Jenny will be back in a minute."
A frown flits across her face and she waves her right hand as if shooing a fly. "Jenny's not here?" Her voice is agitated and again she tries to focus on me.
"She'll be right back."
"Come on over here. I need to tell you something. Before she gets back." She beckons, her voice is an urgent whisper.
"Lie down now. Don't try to get up. I'm right here."
I reach out and touch her hand gently, but she grabs on to it stronger than I thought possible. "I need to tell you something." Her lips don't work the way she wants and her good side grimaces. "You need to know in case I don't make it."
"I'm sure you're going to be fine."
"No!" She tightens her grip. "Before Jenny comes back I need to tell you something." She pants with the effort of speaking. "Jenny could be in danger."
"Danger from whom?"
Her grip loosens and she sags. "I think he did something bad." Her eyes blink open again and she strains to bring me into focus.
"You need to take it easy," I say, patting her hand.
"She doesn't know what he did." Her voice rises in a moan.
"What who did?"
Her breathing quickens, and one of the machines starts to beep softly. "Listen to me. Listen to me." She pulls at my hand and I lean down. I can barely make out her words. "Will you try to find Howard? I'd feel better if I knew where he went. And ... and," she's searching for words, "find his first wife."
The door opens and a short, heavy Hispanic nurse bustles in. "Mrs. Sandstone? Vera?" She looks at the machine that's beeping, presses a button to switch off the alarm, and turns a stern eye toward me. "Who are you and what are you doing in here? It's supposed to be only family here. Where's Vera's daughter?"
Before I can answer, Jenny comes back. "It's okay, Monica, I asked Mr. Craddock to keep an eye on Mamma while I stepped out."
"He must have said something to upset her. Her pulse rate is up. She needs to stay as quiet as possible." She shoots another accusing look at me and I try to look innocent.
Jenny's face is red and perspiring, and her hair, always a little unruly, is a tangle of damp curls. She bites her lip and says, "I had a friend here and Mamma probably heard us arguing. That might have upset her."
Vera seems to have drifted back to sleep. Jenny smoothes her mother's hair away from her forehead. She hasn't looked at me since she came into the room. I wonder if the man she was arguing with is more than just a colleague and she's embarrassed.
"I'm going to the waiting room," I say. "When you take a break come and find me."
"You go on with him," the nurse orders Jenny. "I need to do a few things for your mamma. She'll be fine until you get back."
I steer Jenny to the elevator. "Let's get you down to the cafeteria," I say. "You need a bite to eat."
"I couldn't eat anything."
"You have to. It won't help your mother if you faint and crack your head and end up in the bed next to her."
She manages a tired smile. "Some coffee would be good."
When I have Jenny sitting in front of coffee, pecking at watery scrambled eggs, I ask how Vera ended up in the hospital. "Who found her?"
"The nurse told me Mamma called EMS at four o'clock this morning. Said she wasn't feeling good and she thought they better come and get her." She shakes her head. "If you knew Mamma, you'd know she had to be in bad shape to make that call. Anyway, by the time they got to her place she was unconscious."
"They think it's a stroke?"
Jenny frowns and pokes the eggs. "Yes. They said it's a good thing she called when she did. The faster they get to a stroke victim, the better the chance of recovery."
"What does the doctor say about her prognosis?"
"You know how they are. He didn't say much—just that they got to her in good time." She swallows. "All I know is I don't know what I'll do if something happens to Mamma." She looks into the distance. "I can't stand to see her lying there looking so helpless."
I reach over and pat her hand. "How old is Vera?"
"She's only seventy-five. And vigorous. I told you she gardens and she walks with a couple of friends every day. Vigorous!" Jenny's talking as if she's trying to persuade me—or maybe she's trying to persuade fate to pass her mamma by.
"Jenny, you've never mentioned any family but your mamma. Do you have anybody else?"
She tucks a few of her escaped curls back behind her ears. "Just an aunt and uncle out in Lubbock. We see them a couple of times a year. I guess I'd better call Aunt Susie. She's a good bit younger than my mamma and they aren't close."
"Your daddy still living?"
She sets her fork down precisely, and her face closes up like a door that's been slammed. "I wouldn't know about that. He left us when I was a teenager. Walked out and never came back."
"What was his name?"
"Howard. That was a long time ago." She shoves her coffee away. "I need to get back up there. I'm nervous as a cat when I'm away from Mamma."
"Wait." I wrap up the biscuit she left on her plate in a napkin. "Take this with you so you have something to nibble on later."
She shoves it into her bag and starts to walk away but turns back. "Thank you for coming. You got Truly to take care of the horses?"
"The horses are taken care of. Let me know when you'll be home and I'll stir up a meal for you."
When I get to my pickup, I open my cell phone and find two messages from people needing me. As acting chief of police for the past few months, I've gotten back in the saddle. I was chief years ago but never thought I'd serve in that capacity again. But when the town of Jarrett Creek went bankrupt, the mayor asked me to come back as a temporary measure, since I had the experience and didn't need the salary. Turns out the job suits me better than I thought it would.
Excerpted from A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge by TERRY SHAMES. Copyright © 2015 Terry Shames. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.5 stars Not quite two years ago, Terry Shames rather quietly appeared on the mystery scene with Samuel Craddock, former police chief of a small Texas town. Before long, word began to spread about this appealing guy and the rambunctious citizens of Jarrett Creek and, today, readers everywhere wait for the treat they know is coming with each new entry in the series. A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge is the latest and is every bit as entertaining as I had anticipated. Make no mistake, murder is an ugly thing and this book, like its predecessors, is no lightweight romp through a horde of unlikely suspects. Samuel cares about his town and its people and is understandably worried when vandalism and threatened harm against a pair of horses seem to point to a bigger issue that initially eludes him. His friend Jenny is clearly at the core of whatever is going on and her reaction to his gentle probing is surprising as well as alarming. Later, missing persons add to the mix and dangerous secrets begin to come to light. Jarrett Creek is full of people I'd like to know---Samuel, of course, a gentle soul named Truly, artist Ellen---and even some of the less engaging. The latter, after all, may not always be the most pleasant of people but they're human and, thus, flawed but not irredeemable. Ms. Shames has a way with her characters that makes them very believable while she's also quite adept at creating an interesting plot that holds the reader's attention. I'm as pleased as I can be with this installment in Samuel Craddock's life and am already wishing next January would get here so I can pick up The Necessary Death of Nonie Blake.
This is the newest in the Samuel Craddock Mystery series, and the fourth such. Craddock is the Acting Police Chief for Jarrett Creek, Texas, 6 feet tall, widowed and somewhat older than your usual top cop, he had been chief years back, now and for the past few months filling in at the mayor’s request until the town, now bankrupt, can afford to hire someone else. But this is ‘his town,’ and like most of the townspeople, he cares about the people who live there. Jenny Sandstone, his next-door neighbor, asks for his help in caring for her beloved horses while she visits with her mother, 75 years old and hospitalized after suffering a stroke. After doing the necessary chores with his cows and Jenny’s horses, he goes to the hospital to see how both women are doing. Jenny being out of the hospital room for a few minutes, her mother, Vera, presses Samuel to look into a couple of things that have been worrying her, asking him to try to find her husband, who apparently walked out on his family years back, and also asks him to “find his first wife.” (Strange, since no one seems to know anything about there having been a prior marriage!) She also tells him that she thinks Jenny is in danger. Soon Samuel finds himself with other things to worry about, when a shop in town is vandalized, and although he suspects that the gallery owner’s ex-husband is responsible, she refuses to get an order of protection, insisting that she thinks some local high school kids are behind it. Samuel does indeed keep a protective eye on Jenny, and some incidents occur in short order, three of them with her horses as the target, and then someone runs her car off the road and into a ditch. A lot of questions surround Jenny’s brother, from whom she has long been estranged, and Samuel’s investigation raises a lot of questions surrounding him. His inquiries take him into the neighboring town, Bobtail, 15 miles away; some jurisdictional questions arise, the answers wholly unexpected. This novel was just the thing for this time of year, when one [or this reader at least] prefers to avoid the dark and graphic (the people of Jarrett Creek and Bobtail are delightful), and it is recommended.