Monday, April 22, 2013
Spider Latham Redux
Yes, I'm bringing Spider back.
They have a Facebook page. Check it out and 'like' it.
The mystery concerns a cache found by Dixon Spendlove, the museum director. Someone had secreted a gun, a saddle, and other personal items in a cave sometime during the mid-1800's and Dixon came upon the cache as he was exploring the area. The display is fascinating and certainly set the creative juices flowing.
So, here's Chapter One of (working title) The Red Pueblo
Spider Latham yanked at his tie, loosening it in anticipation of reaching the safety of home. With one hand on the steering wheel of his pickup, he pulled the black polyester neckwear from under his collar and handed it to his wife.
Laurie took it absently and pointed at a small, square sedan sitting in the driveway in front of their house. “Isn’t that the car you drove home from Vegas last year?”
“Yep. That’s the one.” Spider turned off the gravel road, rolled over the cattle guard and pulled up beside the orange Yugo with flames decorating its front end. “I don’t know that I’m ready for company.”
Laurie patted his knee. “Maybe company is what you need. You like that fellow don’t you? What ‘s his name?”
“Jade Tremain. Yeah, I like him. But today’s not . . .“
“Life goes on.” The moment he turned off the key, Laurie opened the door and slid down to the ground. Smiling, she walked toward the young man just emerging from the compact car. “Hello, Jade. Welcome.”
Jade took the hand she held out to him. “Did I come at a bad time?” His eyes went from Laurie, dressed in a black dress and high heels, to Spider, wearing a black suit on a hot August weekday.
Spider got out of the pickup and ambled over, pulling down his Stetson to shade his eyes from the afternoon sun. He shook the younger man’s hand and nodded toward the Yugo. “Your dad still keeping you humble?”
Jade laughed. “It was the only company car left in the garage. No one else wants to drive it.”
Laurie patted the orange fender. “I never will forget having to rescue Spider when he drove it home that time he was doing some work for your dad.”
Spider eyed the car. “I wonder why he hangs on to it. It must be more than twenty years old.”
“It is, but it doesn’t have that many miles on it.” Jade looked at his watch. “I’ve come to talk to you about doing some more work for Dad.”
“Spider, take Jade out back,” Laurie said. “You can sit in the shade while he tells you what he’s come for. I’ll bring out some ice water.” She headed up the walk to the front door.
Spider jerked his head in invitation and led his guest across the lawn. At the back yard fence he held the gate open.
Jade passed through. “I tried to call, but it said the phone was disconnected.”
“Things have been pretty tight lately. We figured that was something we could do without.” Spider fished a cell phone from his shirt pocket. “The county gave me this to use for work, but I don’t take any personal calls on it.”
“So you’re still deputy sheriff?”
Spider pocketed the phone as he headed toward a grape arbor. “Yeah, but the county’s running out of money. Ever since this last recession hit, all employees have to take three unpaid furlough days each month. And then I had a funeral to pay for.”
Jade stopped just short of the shade. “Oh, gee, Spider. Is that where you’ve just been?” He hit his forehead with the heel of his hand. “I bet you wish I hadn’t come.”
Spider sat in one of the chairs and pointed at the other. “Take a load off.”
Jade hesitated, his hands in his pockets.
“Sit,” Spider said.
Jade sat. “I’m sorry about coming this afternoon, Spider. Would you . . . could I ask . . . whose funeral was it?”
Spider crossed his legs, resting the ankle of his black cowboy boot on his knee. He took off his Stetson, held it in his lap, and turned his face away. “My mother’s.” As he looked off to the south, his eyes welled up and a tear slid down his cheek.
Jade shifted in his chair. “I’d better go.”
Still looking away, Spider made a negative motion with his hand. He drew a handkerchief from the inside pocket of his coat and wiped his eyes. “Don’t go.” He blew his nose and turned to face the younger man. “I don’t know where that came from. I haven’t cried a tear since Mama died.”
Jade sat with his hands on his knees. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but closed it again and folded his arms tightly across his chest.
Spider cleared his throat. “Actually, the old woman who lived with us this last year wasn’t my mama.” He smiled at the confused look on Jade’s face. “My mother had Alzheimer’s. We’ve been saying that we’d rejoice when she was finally released from that prison, but here I am crying. In front of company, no less.”
Jade pursed his lips and looked down at his feet.
Spider uncrossed his legs and leaned forward. “So, what’s on Brick Tremain’s mind? Why’d your daddy make you drive the three hours from Las Vegas to Lincoln County to see me, aside from the fact that he couldn’t talk to me on the phone?”
“He needs you to do some investigating for him, but he says it will take longer than a weekend. He wants to know if the sheriff’s office can spare you for a week or so.”
“Shoot, the sheriff would probably kiss your daddy on both cheeks if he employed me for a week or more. That would mean that he wouldn’t have to take any furlough days himself. It’s really chafing him that he’s being treated the same as his deputy.” Spider put his handkerchief back in the inner pocket. “What does the boss want me to do?”
The screen door banged, and Jade waited to answer while Laurie approached with a tray holding three tall glasses of ice water. He murmured thanks and set the glass on a table beside his chair. After she served her husband and sat with her own cool drink, he spoke. “My dad is on the board of directors of a small museum in Arizona. Anasazi artifacts and stuff like that.”
Spider took a sip. “I know that Anasazi were early Pueblo Indians. That’s about all I know about them.”
Jade smiled. “Well, that’s more than I know.”
“Where is this museum?” Laurie asked.
“It’s in a little town called Fredonia, right on the Utah-Arizona border.”
Laurie’s smile was huge. “You’re kidding! I have cousins in Fredonia.”
“Dad says the museum director lives in Kanab, Utah. I guess it’s near Fredonia.”
Laurie nodded. “Seven miles north. I have cousins in Kanab, too.”
Spider leaned back and smiled at his wife. “Never mind about your relatives. Let’s hear what Jade has to say about the problem this museum has and what his daddy wants me to do.”
“I don’t know the particulars.” Jade stretched out his legs and jingled the keys in his pocket. “I just know they’re in trouble. Someone is threatening to close down the museum and ruin the director financially. They need help right away, like by the end of next week. Dad wants you to go over and lend a hand.” Jake looked at his watch again.
“That’s mighty slim—“ Spider was about to go on when Laurie put her hand on his knee.
“Do you need to leave?” she asked Jake.
The young man ran his hand through his curly hair. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to look impatient. The truth is, my wife is supposed to call me. She went to the doctor this morning.”
“Is anything wrong?” Laurie’s concerned look deepened.
Jade’s cheeks grew rosy and he shook his head. “We’re expecting a baby. It’s our first.”
“Congratulations!” Spider stood and held out his hand. “If you don’t have any more information for me, I’ll let you get on your way back to Vegas. Tell me who I talk to at the museum.”
Jade stood, patting his shirt pocket before extracting a business card. “Here’s the director’s contact information. He can tell you the whole story.”
Spider walked with Jade toward the gate, reading the card as he went. “Should I call him or just show up?”
“We’ll just show up,” Laurie said. “Since we don’t have a phone.”
Spider stopped and looked down at his wife. “We’ll show up? Are you coming with?”
“There’s no need for me to stay home now,” Laurie said. Her voice quavered at the end of the sentence and her eyes filled with tears. She accepted the handkerchief Spider proffered and turned away for a moment to wipe her eyes. “Excuse me,” she said to Jade. “I didn’t expect to get weepy.”
Jade stopped at the gate to let her go through first. “Please don’t apologize. I should have come on another day.”
She shook her head. “No, I think it’s wonderful you came today. This will give us both something to think about instead of the empty chair in the living room.”
Spider put his arm around his wife as they walked Jade to his car.
The young man stopped with his hand on the door handle and looked at the roof of the Latham vehicle, still showing the dents Spider hadn’t been able to completely hammer out after the rollover accident he had on one of his first cases. “I see you’re still driving the same pickup.”
“It runs good,” Spider said. “And it’s easy to spot in a crowded parking lot.”
“My dad would approve,” Jade said with a smile, opening the door. He paused and leaned on the top of the car. “If things are so tight here, why don’t you come to Vegas and work for Tremain Enterprises? Dad’d hire you in an instant.”
“I know that,” Spider said. “He told me the same thing last time I worked for him, but Lathams have been living in Meadow Valley for four generations. Five if you count my boys. We’ve got good pasture and artesian water. It’s worth hanging onto, even when times are lean.”
Jade slid into the driver’s seat and closed the door, speaking through the open window. “Dad says there’s a room for you at the Best Western in Kanab. It’s there on the main drag. He wants you to call him once you’re settled in and understand the lay of the land.”
“Will do.” Spider drew Laurie back a pace as Jade started the engine. They watched as the car turned around in the drive and waved as it rattled over the cattle guard.
“I’ll run over to Bud’s and ask him to check on the cattle for me every few days,” Laurie said. “Then I’ll stick all those funeral casseroles in the freezer and pack something for us to eat for supper on the way.”
“We’re leaving this afternoon?”
“You heard what Jade said. They’re in trouble and there’s a deadline.”
Spider took the phone from his pocket. “All right. I’ll call and make sure it’s okay for me to take the time off.”
Laurie headed toward the barn. “I’m getting my saddle right now and putting it in the pickup so I don’t forget it.”
Spider paused with his thumb on the key pad. “Hold on a minute. You’re taking your saddle?”
Laurie stopped and turned around. “Yeah. I thought I’d spend some time with Jack.”
“Jack Houghton, my cousin. We used to ride all around that red rock country when I was sixteen. It would be fun to do it again.”
“Isn’t he a dentist? How do you know he has horses?”
“His sister Sally was at the funeral today. She told me he’s bought the old family ranch and built a new house and stables on it.”
“Huh,” Spider grunted. As Laurie turned again toward the barn, he went back to scrolling through the menu on his phone to find the sheriff’s number.