In Bill Crider's Survivors Will Be Shot Again, Sheriff Dan Rhodes learns that, as the old saying goes, crime doesn't pay. But it also doesn't take a vacation (Available August 9, 2016).
There's no such thing as a day off for a sheriff. Even in a small Texas town like Clearview, there's always something going on for law enforcement. Still, most days don't involve a run-in with an alligator.
And that's not the worst of Sheriff Dan Rhodes's troubles, either. There's a dead man in Billy Bacon's barn, though Bacon swears he doesn't know how the body got there. Rhodes is a bit skeptical, given that the intruder has been shot twice and that Bacon has recently removed a sign from a fencepost near the barn, a sign that says “Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again.”
The citizens of Clearview have been complaining about a rash of thefts, and Rhodes suspects that the dead man may have been involved in them. But before he can solve that crime, he also has to deal with a number of other puzzling crimes in the community, ranging from a holdup at a convenience store to the disappearance of a loaf of bread. And then there's the dang gator.
Sheriff Dan Rhodes was standing at the back of the Pak-a-Sak looking at the Dr Peppers in the big cooler when the man with the gun came inside. Rhodes hadn’t had a Dr Pepper in years, and he’d missed the taste a lot. He was thinking that maybe it was time to give up his boycott of the company that had begun when they’d fixed it so he couldn’t order Dr Pepper with real sugar over the Internet. The boycott didn’t appear to have hurt their business one bit, after all, and nobody even knew about it except Rhodes and his wife. A Dr Pepper sure would taste good.
Besides that, Rhodes had read an article about a 104-year-old woman in Fort Worth who attributed her longevity to drinking three Dr Peppers a day. She’d told the reporter that her doctors told her that drinking Dr Pepper in that quantity would kill her, but the doctors kept dying and she kept right on living. That sounded good to Rhodes, but it looked as if he wasn’t going to get a Dr Pepper today.
“Gimme all your cash,” the man with the gun said to the clerk. His voice was muffled because he had his black sweatshirt pulled up over the lower half of his face. He wore a black knitted cap pulled down low on his forehead.
The man hadn’t noticed Rhodes. He was short and jittery, full of nervous energy, hopping from foot to foot and waving his pistol in front of Chris Ferris, the clerk on duty.
Rhodes wasn’t in any mood to deal with an armed robber. He supposed he’d have to, however, since he was the sheriff.
“Are you nuts?” Ferris asked the robber. Ferris had been robbed before, several times, and he was more calm than a first-timer would’ve been. “You can’t rob me. The county sheriff is right here in the store.”
“Yeah, right,” the robber said, “and so is Taylor Swift. Gimme the money.”
“How about lottery tickets instead?” Ferris asked. “Maybe some jerky.”
“First the sheriff and now jerky? You think this is a joke? Just shut up and gimme the money before I start shooting.”
“He wasn’t joking about the sheriff,” Rhodes said from the back of the store as he started to walk toward the front. “I’m right here.”
The robber turned around. The gun he held in his right hand was a snub-nosed revolver like something from an old black-and-white gangster movie, the kind they didn’t make anymore.
“You don’t look like a sheriff,” the robber said.
“Sheriffs don’t wear uniforms,” Ferris said. “That’s him, all right.”
“I didn’t see no sheriff’s car outside.”
“My wife sent me for a loaf of bread,” Rhodes said. He pulled a loaf of bread off the shelf as he passed. “I’m not on duty. That old pickup out there’s mine.”
“You just stop right there,” the robber said, half turning so that he could see both Rhodes and Ferris. He had the gun pointed at Rhodes, more or less, but he was still moving it around.
“You can’t shoot both of us,” Ferris said.
The robber looked at him. “I can shoot you one at a time, dumbass. Now get the money.”
Rhodes continued to walk forward.
The robber turned his head toward him. “I’ll shoot you first, Sheriff, if you really are the sheriff. I told you to stop.”
Rhodes was only about eight feet from the robber now, so he stopped.
“My wife’s going to be disappointed if I don’t bring this bread home,” he said.
The robber ignored Rhodes and said to Ferris, “Get that money. Now!”
“I think you should go for the jerky,” Rhodes said. “More nutrition. Less jail time.”
The robber turned toward him again, and Rhodes tossed the bread underhanded at the robber’s head, spinning it like a football.
“Catch!” he yelled.
Rhodes knew he was taking a chance. If the robber pulled the trigger, there was no telling where the bullet would go, but Rhodes thought the odds were in his favor. He was likely to get shot anyway if the robber’s nervousness got any worse.
The robber didn’t catch the bread. He didn’t even try. He jerked his head to the side, and the loaf hit him in the chest. Rhodes jumped forward. Taking two giant steps, he clamped one hand on the robber’s wrist and the other on the cylinder of the gun as he forced the robber’s hand down. The robber grunted and tried to pull his hand loose, but Rhodes held tight, making sure he had a good grip on the cylinder so the revolver wouldn’t fire.
The robber squirmed and kicked. Rhodes held on and dragged him toward the counter. The robber dug in his heels, but Rhodes was considerably bigger. The robber didn’t stand a chance.
“Call the sheriff’s office,” Rhodes told Ferris, who was watching the action as if he were at a movie.
“Oh,” Ferris said. “Sure.”
He picked up a cell phone from behind the counter and made the call while the robber continued to struggle with Rhodes. The struggles caused the sweatshirt to slip down, revealing the robber’s face, which was red with the effort he was making to escape Rhodes’s grip.
“Dang, is that you, Rayford?” Ferris said, putting down the phone after completing his call.
“Shut up!” the robber yelled.
Rhodes wrenched the gun from his hand, and the robber broke away. He started toward the door, but Rhodes put out a foot and tripped him. The robber fell and skidded a foot or two toward the door. When he started to get up, Rhodes said, “Just lie there for a while. I have the pistol now, and I’d hate to have to shoot you.”
The robber turned his head to look. Rhodes made sure he could see the gun.
“Put your hands on your head,” Rhodes told him. “Lie still.”
The robber did as he was told.
“That’s Rayford Loomis,” Ferris said. “We went to Clearview Middle School together. Had history and English class together, too, and maybe PE.”
“Is that right?” Rhodes asked. “Is your name Rayford?”
The robber didn’t say anything.
“It’s him, all right,” Ferris said. “I haven’t seen him in a few years, but that’s him. I never thought he’d rob a store where I was working.”
“I didn’t know you worked here,” Loomis said. He paused. “Wouldn’t have made any difference if I’d known, I guess.”
Rhodes knelt down on one knee beside Loomis. “Rayford Loomis, I’m putting you under arrest for attempted armed robbery. That’s for starters. I might think of some other charges later, like illegal possession of a firearm, but right now I’m going to tell you what your rights are. Is that clear?”
“I got it,” Loomis said.
Rhodes quoted the standard Miranda rights. “Do you understand what I told you?”
“I’m not stupid,” Loomis said.
That was debatable, considering the circumstances, but Rhodes didn’t feel like arguing the point.
“All right,” Rhodes said. “You can stand up. Slowly.”
“I can’t stand up with my hands behind my head,” Loomis said.
Rhodes stood and moved away from him. “All right. You can give yourself a little help. Just be careful.”
Loomis used his arms to push the upper half of his body off the floor, got to his hands and knees, and then stood up.
“Hands back on your head,” Rhodes said.
Loomis complied, and Rhodes heard the distant sound of a siren.
“Here comes your backup,” Ferris said. “I need to find me another job. I’m tired of getting robbed.”
“It’s been a while since the last time,” Rhodes said.
“Not long enough,” Ferris said. He looked at Loomis. “I can’t believe you’d stick me up, Rayford. Where’ve you been since middle school, anyway?”
“Daddy moved us to Dallas so he could look for work,” Loomis said. “I didn’t much like it up there. Dropped out of school, got a job, got laid off, ran out of money.” He shrugged. “I thought I’d try Houston, see if there was any work there, but I needed some cash. Passed by here and thought there might be some in the cash drawer.”
Rhodes had a feeling it wasn’t the first time that Loomis had needed a little money and used the gun to get it.
A county car squealed to a stop in the parking lot, and a uniformed deputy got out as the noise of the siren trailed off. He came into the store with his big .357 Magnum drawn.
“Hey, Buddy,” Ferris said.
“Hey, yourself. What we got here, Sheriff?”
Buddy was thin but wiry. He thought of himself as a tough guy, like his idol, Dirty Harry, which was why he carried a revolver nearly as big as he was.
“Got a disarmed robber,” Rhodes said. “You can cuff him.”
Buddy holstered the .357 and cuffed Loomis, pulling down one arm at a time.
“Get an evidence bag,” Rhodes said, showing Buddy the gun he’d taken from Loomis. “I need to secure this.”
When Buddy went out to get the bag, Ferris said, “I sure am glad you were here, Sheriff. Rayford might’ve shot me if you hadn’t stopped him.”
“I wouldn’t have done any such of a thing,” Loomis said. “I never shot anybody in my life. Never even thought about it.”
“Looked like you were thinking about it to me,” Ferris said.
Buddy came back with the evidence bag, and Rhodes put Loomis’s revolver in it and sealed it.
“Take him in and book him,” Rhodes told Buddy. “I’ll follow you and put the gun in the evidence room.”
“Let’s go,” Buddy said, taking Loomis by the arm and leading him out of the store.
“I don’t really think he’d have shot me,” Ferris said as he watched Buddy assist Loomis in getting into the backseat of the county car. “I shouldn’t have said that. He just needed some money and a break. I could tell his heart wasn’t in it.”
“You can be a character witness for him at his trial,” Rhodes said.
Ferris shook his head. “Nope. He pulled the gun. Nobody made him do it.”
“That’s right. It was all his idea.”
“How come you don’t have a gun?” Ferris asked. “Aren’t officers supposed to carry one even when they’re not on duty?”
“Not the sheriff,” Rhodes said, not that he wasn’t armed. He had a pistol, a little Kel-Tec PF-9, in an ankle holster. He liked the concealment that the ankle holster provided, but the pistol wasn’t easy to get to in an emergency. Luckily, he hadn’t needed it. The bread had worked just as well.
Rhodes looked around. “Where’s my loaf of bread?”
Ferris pointed. “Over there on the floor. You want to get a fresh one?”
Rhodes walked over and picked up the bread with his free hand. “I wasn’t really here for bread.” He tossed the loaf to Ferris, who caught it easily. “I was here for a Dr Pepper.”
“Have one on the house,” Ferris said.
“No, thanks,” Rhodes said. “I’m not thirsty anymore.”
Copyright © 2016 Bill Crider.
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Bill Crider is an Anthony Award winner. His short story “Cranked,” which appeared in Damn Near Dead, was a finalist for an Edgar Award. Crider served for many years as chair of the Division of English and Fine Arts at Alvin Community College. He lives in Texas with his wife.