In Pete Brady’s new hometown, hunting is a religion, and he is expected to convert if he’s to run the local newspaper. When Sheriff Garitty takes his son out for his first hunt, he invites Pete to join them in the deer stand—a drafty, miserable place that would be unbearable if young Scotty weren’t so excited. Pete is staring down his rifle barrel, trying to decide if he has the nerve to kill a deer, when a shot rings out. The boy has hit his target. But when they go to retrieve the kill, they find it isn’t a deer, but a man.
Scotty has trained his whole life for this moment, and Pete can’t believe he would have mistaken a man—even a drunk like Dwayne Elkins—for an animal. To clear the boy’s name, Brady goes in search of an ingenious killer, and soon finds himself in the crosshairs.
About the Author
Malcolm Shuman is an American author and archaeologist from Louisiana. After serving in the US Army, Shuman pursued doctoral studies in the field of cultural anthropology. He has been on the faculty of universities including Texas A&I and Louisiana State, and continues to work as a contract archaeologist. Shuman has also published fifteen mystery novels under various pseudonyms. He lives with his wife in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Read an Excerpt
A Pete Brady Mystery
By Malcolm Shuman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 Malcolm K. Shuman
All rights reserved.
A cold drizzle leaked down from the treetops, making a steady patter on the carpet of dead pine needles. The lean, dark-haired man with the rifle crouched on the little stool, waiting, as the wooden platform swayed ever so slightly in the chill breeze. Despite the forest and the wooden walls, the stocking cap, kapock jacket, and gloves, the cold cut through him like a scythe and he wondered for the fiftieth time what he was doing out here.
He looked away from the weapon and down at the thermos on the floor beside him. He'd already downed half the coffee; any more and he'd have to relieve himself, which would mean movement and the chance of frightening the prey.
He sighed and turned back to the rifle. It was a bolt action Remington Model Seven, its clip holding four .243 caliber cartridges. As he lined up the front and rear sights, he tried to imagine whether he would have the nerve to shoot if a target presented itself. With his glasses fogged, he wondered if he would hit anything.
It was the sheriff's fault, he decided. The insistence of Sheriff Matt Garitty that he come with them, participate in Scotty's first hunt. Maybe even get a buck for himself, as if it were the pinnacle of a man's existence to kill a deer.
All in all, a hell of a way to spend the Saturday after Thanksgiving, thought Pete Brady, owner, editor, and publisher of the Troy Parish Express.
And he'd almost been saved; Garitty had been scheduled to drive down to Baton Rouge for a political caucus, but at the last minute it had been canceled, so that late last night Brady had gotten the call: "We're on for tomorrow. Bundle up good, though. It's gonna be a cold one."
And cold was the word, Brady reflected with a shiver. The hell of it was that with Louisiana winters, one week might be below freezing and the next might be in the seventies. A little luck and he'd have been able to wait until a day when there was sun and a blue sky.
But he'd noticed that deer hunting wasn't like that; people seemed to delight in telling about the hardships they'd suffered, and the long hours in the deer stand, with the damn thing swaying under them. But even today most hunters seemed to have stayed indoors. A few distant gunshots here and there, and then, but for the rain, silence, as the hunters had retreated from the wet. All except for Matt, Scotty, and Brady, that is.
Right now Brady didn't know what he would have given the most for, the heat of the sun or the feel of solid earth beneath his feet.
Garitty had told him it was part of the local culture and that if he was going to print photographs of trophy deer in the Express, as everyone expected, he ought to at least know what hunting was all about. Brady had demurred at first: As a native of New Orleans, he'd never had much to do with guns and viewed hunting as left over from barbarian times. Besides, guns were something people killed other people with, and anybody who doubted that could read the Picayune.
But in Troy everything was different; men carried gunracks in their pickups and boys were given .22s in the fifth or sixth grade. Hunting was a religion and in late fall and early winter, during hunting season, men bragged about the size of the buck they had shot.
So Brady had reluctantly accepted Garitty's challenge. Feeling a bit foolish for a middle-aged man, he had accompanied the sheriff's thirteen-year-old, Scotty, to the range and listened intently as a deputy instructed them in safety procedures. Then, only after the range officer was satisfied, did they begin to practice on the wooden deer cutouts that Garitty had installed as targets.
At first Brady had recoiled at the idea of shooting the figures. The sheriff, taking a page from the FBI academy, had rigged a moving belt with the deer targets cleverly intermixed with targets of human beings. So Brady held his fire on every occasion, eventually becoming shamed by the sheriff's son, who, firing from the position beside him, seemed to have no such compunction. But finally the editor persuaded himself to take a chance, so that by the end of the day he was hitting the deer cutouts with gratifying accuracy and the human figures not at all.
Of course, it wasn't exactly like being a cop, he told himself. These figures weren't supposed to shoot back, even in real life. Which sent pangs of renewed guilt surging through him. Because how much sport was it, he asked himself, to kill a creature that had done him no harm and never would? He'd watched the range officer's demonstration of the high-powered bullets he was using. A .243 bullet left the barrel at three thousand feet per second with two thousand foot pounds of energy. That meant that when it hit a small target, like a rabbit, the animal simply exploded. When it hit a larger creature, such as a deer, it tumbled around inside and tore a gaping hole where it exited—if, indeed, it exited in one piece. The .35 caliber round Scotty was using wasn't much different.
When he mentioned it to Matt Garitty, though, the sheriff had only shrugged.
"Have to thin the deer population," he said. "And besides, Scotty's been looking forward to it for the last three years."
"But the deer ..." Brady protested.
"Everything has to die," Garitty drawled. "At least this way it's clean and quick."
And Brady knew it would do no good to argue.
So now he crouched in the stand, blowing out great clouds of vapor and trying to pull the poncho back up to cover his head against the tormenting rain.
God, he thought, I hope they get one. Because if they didn't he had the sick feeling that he might be expected to come out here and go through this again.
Then a worse thought struck him: Suppose he were the one to see a deer? What then? He sighted down the barrel, squinting through the rear sight at the little trail below. What if a deer appeared now, picking its way down the track, searching for the grain in the bait box below? Would he have the guts to squeeze the trigger? It was easy with the pop-ups, almost reflex. But with a living, breathing animal it was different.
He took a deep breath, blinked away a raindrop, and sighted again through the gray mist. He wasn't a vegetarian. Garitty had rubbed that point in. So why was he refusing to do his own killing? After all, the deer would be eaten.
It was, Brady had argued, because hunters took such delight in what they did. What was it Aristophanes had said? "Small boys throw stones at frogs in sport, but the frogs die in earnest."
Evolution. Garitty had shrugged. Not that people around here much believed in it, but unlike most of them the sheriff had gone to college and knew it for a fact: Man was a hunter for three million years or so. It was a little late to turn things around.
Brady felt his finger tighten on the trigger and he closed his eyes as he tried to imagine his target. The trouble was there were lots of people he'd met that he'd rather have had in the sights.
He tried to envision the scene: The undergrowth would waver, blur, and a fuzzy face would peer out. For an eternal instant he would stare into those soulful eyes, and then he would become aware of the rack of antlers—antlers that made this a prize animal. So he would reach for the safety, slowly flick it off, take careful aim ...
That was when the shot exploded across the forest.
His eyes came open with a start, and even as the echoes died away it took him a moment to realize what had happened.
One of the others had spotted a deer. And judging from the closeness of the shot, it was the sheriff's son, Scotty, whose stand was the next one, about three hundred yards down the trail.
He heard a faint shout. Scotty, almost certainly, yelling that he had gotten one. Anxious to find an excuse to put an end to this misery, Brady threw off the poncho and made his way cautiously down the wooden ladder, conscious of its swaying at every movement.
His foot touched the ground, his boot sinking into the soft pine needles, and he said a silent prayer of thanks. The rain filtered down on him in a steady sprinkle and he thought longingly of the poncho he'd left behind. But Matt Garitty had been adamant: the orange safety vest outside at all times, and it was just about impossible to fit it over the poncho. Besides, he was soaked through by now, anyway.
He heard the boy shout again and he wondered how long it would take them to lug the buck out of the woods on one of the three-wheelers. Better than having to carry it by hand, he told himself, skirting a broad puddle in the trail and feeling the dead briars grab at his sleeve.
He came to a bend in the trail and let out a "Hello" so they'd know he was here. In the distance he heard the low rumble of an ATV and knew that Matt was on his way here, as well.
Scotty stood in the middle of the trail, the bolt of his rifle open, his eyes bright.
"I got one," he said, pointing. "Right over there, in the thicket. I heard it try to run away, but I know I got it. At least a ten pointer."
Brady tried to mumble congratulations but it came out like a cough. At that moment, with a revving of the engine, Matt emerged from the other direction on the four-wheeled ATV.
"What is it, Scotty?" he asked.
His son repeated the claim, pointing at the tangle across the trail.
"It was too thick in there to go by myself," Scotty said. "I figured I'd wait for you."
His father nodded and unslung his own lever action carbine.
"Well, we'll take a look at this monster," he drawled, giving Brady a wink. "Was it a moose or an elk?"
"Dad!" Scotty protested.
Garitty smiled and started for the thicket, machete in one hand, carbine in the other. Brady let the boy go after his father and then followed a few yards behind. The briars scraped at his face and when he tried to push them away they snagged his clothes.
"Well, you hit something, I reckon," the sheriff said, pointing at a spot of blood on the ground. By the time Brady reached it, though, the rain had blotted it away.
A hundred yards later Brady was beginning to wonder if Scotty had seen anything at all.
"I promise it was right there, in the brush next to the trail," Brady heard the boy say, from ahead of him. "The bushes moved and when I looked—"
The others stopped and Brady emerged from the briars to collide with them.
"Oh, Jesus," he heard Matt Garitty say. The boy beside him made an unintelligible little sound between a gasp and a sob. Brady walked around the pair and stared down at what lay before them.
It was a man, his body twisted where he had fallen, surprise showing in his open, dead eyes. One hand was twisted under him and his legs were bent at the knees, as if he had died before his body had touched the ground. It was, thought Brady, noting the ugly hole in the right cheek, a miracle the man had made it this far.
Brady reached down under the orange vest, touched the man's wet shirt above the heart and then stood up again, trembling.
"It can't be," Scotty cried out. "It was a deer. I promise. I saw it."
The sheriff of Troy Parish stared woodenly ahead in shock and then slowly turned away. That was when Brady saw that Matt was trembling, too.CHAPTER 2
For a long time there was silence, punctuated only by the patter of raindrops on the leaves and the soft sobbing of the boy. Then Brady stooped back down to look at the dead man.
"I know him," he said. "This is—"
"Dwayne Elkins," Matt said in a strange, choked voice. "Runs the car dealership here."
Brady gave the blonde, slightly bloated face another look. Yes. Of course. He hadn't had many dealings with the man, except for a few ads in the Express.
"Dad, it can't be ..." Scotty protested, looking from one to the other. "It couldn't have been my bullet. I saw a deer, not a man. Dad, you have to believe me."
The sheriff reached out, put an arm around his son and held him.
"Dad, you've got to believe—"
Garitty bit his lip and finally gave a little shrug. "We have to get word back to town," he mumbled. "The coroner, the chief deputy—"
"I'll go," Brady volunteered.
"You don't know how to drive an ATV," Garitty said. "Besides, all I have to do is get back to my truck and use the radio. It's only a mile or so." He turned to his son. "Come on Scotty. Won't do you any good to stand around here."
Brady watched them go, a boy on the verge of becoming a man, and a grown man who seemed suddenly on the verge of becoming old.
For a long while he stood over the corpse, staring down at the glazed eyes, the swollen, purple lips, and the entry wound on the cheek, smudged red like an obscene kiss. He gently touched the other side of the head and felt blood; the bullet had exited from near the left ear, after destroying the brain. Not much chance for surviving a shot like that.
He had been at many death scenes, most of them in New Orleans when he'd been a crime reporter for the Times-Picayune. Always before he'd been able to distance himself. Always, that is, until his main source on a crime exposé, Ozzie, was murdered. That had hit hard, and when Brady won a Pulitzer on the strength of his work, it had only made things worse. He'd left the Picayune, bought the Express from old Emmett Larson, and moved to Troy, a quiet town in the pine hills of north Louisiana. He'd made new friends, like Matt and Mitzi Garitty, and had even managed to pair himself with Emmett's beautiful daughter, Kelly. Away from the chaos of New Orleans, with its senseless violence, he had found new structure, and now that structure was threatened by something he could not comprehend.
Because he had taken the course with Scotty. The boy knew a deer when he saw one. His father had made sure of that.
So how could he have shot a man by mistake?
And Brady sighed, feeling suddenly very weary. It was the same story every year: How many accidental shootings were there in the state every hunting season? Many of them were related to alcohol and downright negligence. But some were genuine accidents, a temporary lapse of judgment, or overeagerness on the part of a neophyte.
He wrenched his thoughts away and back to the victim.
What did he know about Dwayne Elkins? Not much, really. In his late thirties at the time of his death, Dwayne had been married to Debra Penniman, granddaughter of old Garth Penniman, who had founded the dealership back in the twenties. Dwayne had more or less inherited his job as a result of his marriage. Maybe that was why Brady had heard a few rumors that the marriage wasn't a particularly happy one. He had a sudden thought and bent over the body. Putting his nose a half inch from the dead man's mouth he sniffed.
Dwayne Elkins exuded the strong odor of liquor. Brady patted the corpse's pockets, searching for a bottle or a flask, but there was nothing. Elkins must have left it at his camp, which, as best Brady could make it, was about a mile and a half away, just off the National Forest.
It was odd Elkins would be here, Brady thought, then reminded himself that if Elkins was drunk, he might do lots of odd things; it was a behavior pattern Brady recognized well from his own days as a heavy drinker, though he tried to forget that part of his life.
So the scenario was clear: Elkins had been at his camp, either alone or with friends. After a few drinks he had decided to go hunting, not realizing that other hunters were present. And he had blundered into the sights of a boy who'd never been on a deer hunt before, worse luck for both.
Except that there was no rifle nearby. The man had gone hunting without a weapon.
An hour later Brady still shivered in the rain, watching a pair of deputies bind the body onto a stretcher. Then he slowly walked back with them the long mile to where Garitty's truck was parked. Except that now, instead of just the truck, there was a Sheriff's Department jeep and the pickup that belonged to the chief deputy.
Garitty and the boy sat inside the sheriff's blue pickup, the motor running to keep them warm. Even through the fogged windshield Brady could make out the pallor on his friend's face.
He tapped on the window. "I think they've about wrapped it up," he told Garitty when the lawman rolled the glass down.
Excerpted from Deerslayer by Malcolm Shuman. Copyright © 1991 Malcolm K. Shuman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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