Authors: Terry Shames
A Killing at Cotton Hill
The Last Death of Jack Harbin
Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek
A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge
Published 2016 by Seventh Street BooksÂ®, an imprint of Prometheus Books
The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake
. Copyright Â© 2016 by Terry Shames. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopyÂing, reÂcordÂing, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, exÂcept in the case of brief quotations emÂbodied in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Characters, organizations, products, locales, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
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The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:
The necessary murder of Nonie Blake : a Samuel Craddock mystery / by Terry Shames.
pages ; cm
ISBN 978-1-63388-120-4 (paperback) â ISBN 978-1-63388-121-1 (e-book)
Printed in the United States of America
To Sam and Ada Gaines and their descendants,
who filled my head with stories
Although none of the Blake family has caused the police in Jarrett Creek any trouble for a long time, I'm not surprised that people are in an uproar when they hear that Winona Blake is back in town. Most people don't even know her real nameâshe's always been called Nonie.
“She was a dangerous girl and she'll be a dangerous woman.” Loretta Singletary, my good friend and neighbor down the street, has stopped in to bring me a hefty slab of coffee cake along with her opinions. She gets up early and bakes every morning and dispenses her goodies like she's trying to fatten up all her friends. Along with her coffee cakes and sweet rolls, she usually brings me the latest news-about-town.
I can't help groaning. “Loretta, I don't want to hear this. They wouldn't have let her out of the mental institution if they thought she was a danger to anyone. And besides, if her family isn't worried, why should anybody else be?”
“You know as well as I do that they're always letting people out of mental hospitals, and then they go crazy and kill somebody.” I'm trying not to stare at Loretta's new permanent that has her white hair in tight curls all over her head. I don't know whether to mention the hairdo or not. I've had the experience of complimenting her on her hair only to find that she's unhappy with the way it looks, mad at her hairdresser, and by extension mad at anyone who notices it.
“No, I don't know that. And if you didn't watch all that TV you wouldn't believe it either.”
“It's not just me.” Her feathers are ruffled. She doesn't like to be called out for watching what I think of as alarmist TV. “Patty Larson is putting together a petition to have Nonie escorted out of town.”
Now I laugh out loud. “Loretta, I hope you don't sign it.”
“And why not?” She's like a banty rooster when she gets mad.
“Because anybody with any sense will look at the list of signers and know that they're looking at the silliest people in town.”
“Says you,” she grumbles. “For your information I had no intention of signing it anyway. I know you can't run somebody out of town. But I think as chief of police you ought to at least go over there and find out what she's up to.”
“That's not going to happen,” I say. “If a bunch of you are so all-fired interested, why don't you get a welcome wagon together for her?”
My suggestion wasn't serious, but the gleam in her eye tells me that she is considering the idea. Everybody will be itching to get a look at Nonie. Twenty years ago, when she was fourteen years old, she tried to kill her younger sister. At the recommendation of a psychiatrist, the family sent her off to an institution near Dallas, and she had been there ever since. At least that's the way I heard the story. I wasn't chief of police at the time it happened. I was working as a land man for an oil and gas company, and I traveled all over the state and so sometimes missed getting the whole story of events that happened in town.
Now I'm chief of police again more or less by default. Jarrett Creek went bankrupt and couldn't afford to pay anybody. I didn't need the salary, so they asked me to step in. Even though it had been many years since I was in the job, people still called me chief, and it seemed natural enough for me to say yes.
Loretta says she's got to go, and by the excitement in her voice I'm afraid that by suggesting a welcome committee I've started an idea that will take on a life of its own. From what little I know about the Blakes, though, they'll find a way to deflect the curiosity seekers. A few families, no matter how long they've lived in Jarrett Creek, are never really part of it. The Blakes are like that. Nonie's actions set the family apart, and since then they've never made much of an attempt to fit in.
For the next few days, Loretta doesn't mention Nonie Blakeâin fact, she's obviously making an effort to keep me out of the loop on what the ladies are up to. That's fine with me. It's mid-August and hot as blazes, which seems to bring out the orneriness in people, and I have a few dustups to settle. Plus the kids are back in school, and the high school boys like to protest by spending the evenings drinking and racing cars along the dam road. I have to shut them down every couple of nights.
It's a shame that school starts up so early, before summer is over. When I was a youngster the best days of summer were late August when you could lie around with a fishing pole and while away the afternoon. At least that's my nostalgic recollectionâit probably didn't happen very often.
So I've pushed Nonie Blake out of my mind when a call comes in to police headquarters a few days later. It's Charlotte Blake, her voice trembling.
“Chief Craddock, something has happened. My sister Nonie has drowned and I don't know what to do.”
“Drowned where?” I ask.
“In our pond out behind the house.” She starts to cry.
“I'll be right out there. Don't move anything or mess with the body.”
“We already moved her. We had to get her out of the pond. We couldn't just leave her there.”
“I understand. I mean, leave everything the way it is now.”
I call an ambulance to come from Bobtail. Then I call Bill Odum, one of my two deputies, and tell him I need him to come out to the Blakes' ranch as soon as he can. He says he can leave right away, that he and his daddy have just now finished clearing a field. When he isn't working part-time as a cop, he works for his daddy on their farm.
The Blake place is on the north side of town, out past the cemetery and a few miles down a gravel road. I barrel down the road, kicking up a lot of dust. Not too many houses out this way. Every one of them is situated on a couple of acres of land. People got in the habit of calling these places “the ranches,” but for me it doesn't fit. When I think of a ranch, I think of acres and acres of land stretching farther than the eye can see, not some scrubby couple of acres.
I don't know why anybody would want to live out here. There's something desolate about it, even though there are plenty of trees. But there's also scrub brush and big patches of land with nothing growing on them, not even weeds. It's worse this time of year when we haven't had enough rain and the sun is at its hottest. If you walk around in this area, you run across a lot of fire-ant beds. Makes my ankles sting to think about it.
I head up the gravel driveway to the house and park in front of the garage. I pause before I get out, sizing up the place. It's massive, both tall and wide with a big wraparound porch, generous windows, and an oversized front door. But it's unadorned, no carved trim on windows or doors, no embellishments, and it's painted a gloomy gray. If the house ever goes to ruin, no doubt people will soon say it's haunted, not only because of what happened out here twenty years ago, but also because it looks unapproachable.
Charlotte said the pond was located out back of the house. The backyard is as scrubby as the front, with exhausted patches of grass barely holding their own in the red dirt. There's a big hulk of a barn set several yards back that has seen better days. The heat shimmers off the tin roof, the glare piercing even though I'm wearing sunglasses. As I get closer to the barn, I hear a child's voice, high and loud, and a woman crying, the sound coming from behind the structure. A trick of acoustics makes it seem like the air is full of voices.
The pond is set a short distance back from the barn. The family is gathered near the banks next to a heap on the ground. As I walk up, I see that the pond is half-obscured with brown algae and dead leaves. A putrid smell hangs in the air. I don't see how the family can stand the odor, although I suppose with Nonie lying there they aren't noticing much else.
I had forgotten that Loretta had told me that Charlotte has a five-year-old boy, and I'm surprised to see him crouched beside the body looking at it intently. Squatting next to him, his hand on the boy's shoulder, is a scrawny young man with his back to me.
Adelaide Blake; her daughter Charlotte; and a man of about fifty, with a thick body and curly gray hair, have their eyes on the two crouched there. Adelaide Blake is sobbing into a handkerchief. I'm curious why Adelaide's husband, John, isn't with them.
At the sound of my footsteps, they turn to me with an air of relief. Only the child doesn't look up, keeping his attention on the body. Children are fascinated by death and can seem heartless because they don't really understand the full import of it.
Charlotte walks toward me, and the scrawny young man who was keeping vigil with the five-year-old stands up. His thin, pale face is streaked with dirt and the trace of tears, and his black pants and T-shirt look damp. The Blakes have four children, one of them much younger than the other three. This must be him. He's around twenty. There's an older brother who doesn't live in Jarrett Creek. He has made a bit of a name for himself riding the rodeo circuit.