SPOILER ALERT: Read the first two first!
Turkey Ranch Road Rage
The Third Jolene Jackson Mystery
by Paula Boyd
eBook Only (No longer available in paperback)
No matter how hard she tries to escape her Texas roots—and her mother—Jolene finds herself back in Kickapoo once again to deal with both. In this third Jolene Jackson Mystery, the problem isn’t that Jolene’s seventy-something mother Lucille has been arrested and put in jail. The problem is that she won’t leave. And the why of it all is about as clear as the red mud covering the oilfield pickups parked at the Dairy Queen.
Lucille’s latest antic—assaulting a county maintenance truck in protest over an RV park—doesn’t seem all that bad, relatively speaking, since her inclination to fire off bullets whenever and wherever she feels like it is well established. Forming a group to stop the park, writing letters to the editor and contacting local officials, however, are a tad unusual. That she joined up with a dubious group of tie-dyed hippie types that just rolled into town to save horny toads is just plain weird.
With a naked lizard girl in a cage on the courthouse lawn, a missing would-be park landowner, one dead newcomer and rabbit chow raining down on Main Street, there’s no shortage of strange happenings. So, quicker than you can say “I’ll have an iced tea with that chicken basket,” Jolene realizes that something much bigger than an RV Park or horny toads is at stake. And when her own family skeletons creep out of closet, Jolene’s got to find out who’s after oil, who’s after blood, and who has a deadly case of Turkey Ranch Road Rage.
Springtime in the Rockies is just plain gorgeous, but don’t tell anyone. There’s a foot of new snow on the ground, but I could sit outside on my deck naked if I wanted to. I don’t do that sort of thing much after that incident involving the bird feeder and the meter reader, but I could if I wanted to. So, instead of working on my winter tan, I was sitting at my desk putting the finishing touches on a feature story about a friend of mine here in the mountains who has a book coming out this month. I do a variety of freelance jobs to supplement my income, which otherwise comes solely from a card company I sold a few years ago. For the most part, it means I do not have to live in a box under a bridge while I do what I enjoy. What can I say? I got lucky.
Feeling warm and fuzzy, and satisfied with life in general, I ended the article and started to log on to the Internet to send it to the newspaper that had agreed to pay me for it. The ringing of the telephone stopped me.
As I grabbed the receiver, I turned my chair to look out the window at the unbelievably blue sky, a deep vivid blue that I’ve never seen anywhere but here in the mountains. Some days—actually a lot of days—it’s just too blue to be real, too good to be true, and it always makes me thankful I live here rather than someplace else.
“Hello,” I said, my voice lilting upward in a cheerful happy tone.
“Jolene, it’s Jerry.”
Zing. My sky-blue musings flew out the window for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the deep timbre of Jerry Don Parker’s voice. Jerry, AKA Sheriff Parker of Bowman County, Texas, and I had been communicating quite a bit lately—and quite pleasantly, I might add—but not in the middle of a work day. That was my first clue that this was not a personal call. The second was the weary resignation in his usually seductive voice as he said, “It’s about your mother.”
Oh, lovely, wasn’t it always. Just as my ugly thoughts were queuing up for a fast-forward replay of Lucille history, a stab of real fear punched the pause button. The woman is in her seventies after all. “Is she okay?”
“Relatively speaking, I suppose.”
Jerry’s voice was not one of compassion, as if preparing to deliver the ultimate of bad news, but rather a weary tone heavy with disillusionment, distress and déjà vu, and I got the message loud and clear. “What has she done this time?”
“I’m sorry, Jolene, but she’s in jail.”
Jail. Behind bars. Oh, my.
Okay, we all know I was not shocked. I quit being shocked about such things several months ago when my mother officially became insane. Well, maybe she’s not really insane, in technical and clinical terms, but from where I sit she is plainly nuts. I leaned back in my chair, closed my eyes and rubbed my lids, a futile gesture usually practiced when my mother is actually in front of me. I’ve yet to make her—or me—magically disappear, but somehow it’s comforting to know that you can blink the world away for a few seconds. A very few. “All right, let’s hear it.”
“We had no choice but to arrest her and her friends.”
You expect me to be surprised, what? “And?”
“Fritz tried to post her bail the minute after he booked her, but she didn’t take too kindly to any of it.”
No, I bet she didn’t, particularly from Fritz Harper, who was, last I’d heard, my mother’s latest squeeze. He was also a semi-retired deputy who worked for Jerry, my old high school sweetheart and would-be lover. Would be, that is, if we weren’t distracted by my mother’s determination to get herself arrested, or the various murdering crazies running loose spoiling things. That we’re seven hundred miles apart wasn’t helping much either. One bad thought led to another, and before I knew it, the big screen version of Terminator 73: Lucille on the Loose was playing wildly in my head. “Who’d she kill?”
“No one was hurt,” Jerry said tentatively. “But there’s a county maintenance truck with a bullet in the radiator, at least that’s the only one we’ve found so far. Bullet, that is.”
I groaned, but asked the obvious anyway. “Why did she shoot a county truck?”
“You knew about the picket line, right?”
Wrong. I knew nothing about anything, and in particular, nothing about a picket line. “As in protesters with signs and things?”
“Exactly. They set up out on the north end of Turkey Ranch Road where the county was doing some right-of-way work.”
The mental geography was fairly easy in that Jerry Don Parker and I had spent quite a bit of our teenage days in that area. Turkey Ranch Road went past the old Little Ranch, which had several access roads up to oil wells that were perfect for stargazing. Dedicated students that we were, we went out there several times a week to map constellations for extra credit. I might not be able to locate more than six constellations, but I knew exactly where Turkey Ranch Road was, and it wasn’t very far from my mother’s house. That answered nothing about why she was out there causing trouble, however. “Okay, Jerry, I don’t have a clue about what’s going on. Tell me.”
“It’s about the RV park that’s going in.”
“I’m not sure of all the details myself, but the rumor is that about two thousand acres at the edge of Kickapoo are going to be turned into a camping park of some sort.”
A park? With camping? In Kickapoo? Why? “Oh, geez, this doesn’t have anything to do with the new falls, does it?”
“Well, yeah,” he said, a sort of “duh” tone in his voice. “Redwater’s getting a lot of tourist traffic now. People that would have just passed through are making this a stopover. The waterfall is a nice tourist attraction.”
I suppose it was that, relatively speaking, since the only other tourist attraction around town was the four-story medical building out off the bypass that was affectionately known as “the tower.” I did not say these things aloud as I’ve noticed that Jerry Don seems to kind of like the place and does not find my little observations and witty commentaries particularly humorous. It was yet another of the insurmountable gulfs between us, maybe even harder to overcome than the distance factor. “So, let me get this straight. Mother isn’t happy about this so-called park and was protesting. She got a little carried away, whipped out her concealed weapon and maimed a radiator. Am I close?”
“Yes, generally speaking, I guess. But the county guys were just mowing the grass, not actually starting on the park. Gifford Geller’s nephew Gus had just parked the truck on the shoulder and walked across the road when she shot it. He’s making noise about attempted murder, but we only charged her with destruction of public property.”
I took a deep breath and willed away all the pesky questions that were flitting through my mind. The details of what happened and why were irrelevant. What mattered was how I was going to get myself uninvolved with it. “Okay, listen, Jerry,” I said, a plan forming as I spoke. For all my faults, I can make decisions fast and firm when I have to. “I’ll call Mother and tell her to control herself. You just take my VISA number and pay her fine, or bail, or whatever. As long as it’s under five grand, I should be okay. Just free her and haul her home. I’ll handle it from there.”
“She refuses to leave, Jolene,” he said, sort of pitiful-like. “She even tried to assault Fritz when he went to get her then told us to arrest her for that too. We’re in a tough place here.”
I let another little groan slip out before I caught myself. I knew exactly where this was headed, and I wasn’t going for it, not no-way, not no-how. My mother was a grown woman and could very well take care of herself. Besides, she tended to get even more Lucille-ish when I got involved; therefore, it was my civic duty to stay out of the mess. (Rationalization is as handy as denial and I am free and loose with both.) “I’m not coming down there, Jerry. At some point, I need to do some actual work here and make some money so I can keep my house.”
There was a definite pleading tone to his voice that I would have preferred to hear in a very different context—one that didn’t involve my mother. “I can’t.”
“If Fritz can’t make her see reason, you’re the only one who can. She’s a seventy-year-old woman and she doesn’t need to be staying here at the jail. It’s not good for her, and it’s not good for me either.”
For him? Oh, now we were getting somewhere. Mr. Sheriff’s concerns extended past the usual pain-in-the-butt Lucille issues. “PR worries, eh?”
He hemmed and hawed for a second then said, “Well, yes. She called up the newspaper and one of the radio stations before we took her cell phone away.”
I wasn’t sure which of these details was most amusing, the fact that she’d called the media or that they’d let her keep a phone to do it with. “Well, Jerry, it sounds like you’ve got a real problem there.”
“She’s your mother,” he snapped back, adding an accusatory tone to be sure I got the message.
“I was switched at birth.”
“Look, Jerry, what do you want me to say? Just treat her like you would any other vicious criminal who’d done the same thing and move along.”
“It’s not that simple.” He sighed, heavily. “Your mother and her friends have been writing letters to a whole lot of people, such as every member of the city councils of both Redwater Falls and Kickapoo.”
“Okay, nothing illegal about that.”
“These were threatening letters,” he said. “Some have appeared in the Redwater paper.”
Public threats. Yes, that was bad, likely very bad, but I couldn’t acknowledge it or d I’d find myself heading south before I could even utter the words “please God, not again.” “Well, Jerry, I think that’s great that she’s trying to do things to get somebody to pay attention to that park problem. Granted, shooting a county maintenance truck was a bad call, but the rest seems perfectly legal and civic-minded even. Did I mention that I also have American Express?”
“In her letters,” he said, deftly avoiding my attempts to buy my way out of this mess, “she promised, and I quote, ‘to take out every last scum sucker involved in such a stupid idea’.”
Oh boy. My stomach gurgled and I reached for a couple of antacid tablets. I lie to myself, saying I keep the bottle on my desk because the calcium is good for me and I am dutiful about watching my health. The truth is my consumption of stomach mints is tied less to concerns about healthy bones and more to phone calls to, from or about my mother. I crunched up the tablets then washed them down with a swig of Dr Pepper. This, of course, created an instant volcanic eruption of foam, which went both up and down my available airways. I covered the receiver with my hand while I swallowed, sputtered and coughed, listening to Jerry detail my mother’s most recent activist activities. As he talked, I automatically grabbed the bottle again and ingested another three hundred percent of my daily-recommended dosage of calcium carbonate. I did not swig anything during or after, but I choked just the same.
“Furthermore,” he continued, “she said that her daughter was a ‘hot shot’ reporter in Denver with connections and that heads were going to roll. She said Jolene Jackson knew people and she wouldn’t let a ‘bunch of thugs’ ruin her mother’s home. She hinted at mob ties and hit men as well. I can fax you the articles if you’d like.”
No, I would not like. Not even a little. Hit men? Rolling heads? Damn. The scar on my arm began to twitch then escalated to throbbing spasms. It had been about eight months since a would-be killer’s bullet had ripped through the flesh and bone just below my shoulder. The wound had healed remarkable well, considering, but it still provided a major punch of physical pain to go along with flashbacks and panic attacks that even thinking of having to go back to Kickapoo, Texas brought on. Like now.
As a last ditch effort, I decided to look for a situational loophole, one that would keep me seven hundred miles away from the reality of it, whatever “it” was this time. I rubbed my arm and took deep calming breaths. I could do this; I just needed more to work with. “Just exactly how is this park going to ruin my mother’s home?”
“She thinks they’re going to put the campers right behind her house.”
“Well, are they?”
“I guess it’s possible. The land goes all the way to her house, Jolene, you know that.”
Meaning, yes. That familiar sick feeling balled up in my stomach and the sound of gunshots exploded inside my head. There are no words to describe how badly I did not want to go to Texas or deal with any more lunatics, which in my experience were generally well-armed lunatics. And the first pistol-packing lunatic to deal with was my mother. I could easily envision Lucille Jackson leaning over her back fence, blowing holes in Airstreams and Winnebagoes. I could see it, but I sure couldn’t stop it. Palpitations thumped an irregular cadence on my breastbone. “My mother is going to do whatever she pleases whether I’m there or not,” I said as firmly and unemotionally as I could. “You know that.”
“Well, we have to do something,” Jerry grumbled. “It’s getting ugly around here, and your mother is the instigator of most of it. Her spacey group has already been pegged as a bunch of militants because of their threats, which is bad enough, but then the environmentalists showed up and started talking animal rights. Well, that upset some church ladies, who were real quick to tell them that God had given man, not animals, dominion over the land. Obliged to enforce this holy directive, they began vigorously protesting the protesters, and well, it became rather complicated. Surely you saw it on the news.”
No, surely I had not. The knots in my stomach wrenched a little tighter. “Look, Jerry, I haven’t watched the news, I haven’t read the paper, and more importantly I haven’t talked to my mother in almost two weeks. I don’t know anything about what’s going on down there.”
“Well, Jolene, it’s like this. I’ve got several mobs of people with picket signs marching outside my window right this minute.” He paused and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “Half of them are waving Bibles and the other half are dressed up like horned toads.”
Huh? Apparently I needed a sign myself so I’d know what the hell he was talking about. “Horned toads? Horny toads? Those spiked frog-lizard things we used to torture as children?”
“Why, dare I ask, are people wearing lizard suits outside the county jail?”
“I told you, they’re protesting. I have to give them credit though,” he said, the dark cloud lifting from his voice, lightening it to almost a chuckle. “They know how to set a stage. A pretty girl in a cage wearing body paint and foam lizard parts is hard to ignore.” He coughed a little, probably getting all choked up just thinking about it. “She’s attracting a lot of attention.”
Obviously. “I’m guessing she’s one of your environmentalist protesters.”
“It appears that way.”
As I wondered about the naked lizard impersonator, Jerry went on to give me the gory details of the militant wildlife group my mother had embraced along with a few highlights of their tactics. I’d never heard of AAC (All Animals Count), but it sounded like a standard “save the wildlife by burning down the condos” kind of group. I couldn’t imagine my mother giving a rat’s rear about the plight of a spiked lizard, but I could very well imagine that she’d go Rambo over something a little more personal, like campers behind the azaleas.
Indeed, I could see my militia-minded mother quite clearly, her hair pristinely coifed, eyebrows and lips freshly painted, clusters of purple balls dangling from her earlobes, her glittery bespangled sweatshirt crisscrossed with bandoliers, and an automatic weapon in each hand, the purple nail polish of her trigger fingers providing a lovely contrast to the gray-green gunmetal. Laugh if you will, but Lucille Jackson is a card-carrying member of the NRA, has both a concealed weapon and a legal permit for the same, is fond of laser sights and has a lifetime membership to the Redwater Falls Gun Club. In fact, I would only be mildly surprised to learn that she has a box of AK-47s stuffed under her bed, and the surprising part would be that they were under her bed rather than on a display rack above it.
Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a little, but only a little. I don't really know what all the woman is capable of. I've found out more about my mother in the last few months than in the entire rest of my life combined. It has made me both jaded and wary. During this same time period, I have also learned to trust my gut. So, regardless of what my guilt-trained mind might say—like, “you really should go, she’s your mother”—my wiser inner warning system screamed “Are you stupid!”
When Jerry finished regaling me with things I’d rather not know, I reiterated my position on the situation. “I said I'd pay her fine, Jerry, or whatever, but there is no reason for me to drive down there to do it. My VISA number is—”
“You don’t have a choice.”
“Oh, yes, I do,” I said, the scar tissue in my upper arm twitched and throbbed. “I’m not the woman's babysitter or her legal guardian.”
“You will be if I get her declared incapable of caring for herself.”
A cold chill swept up my spine. Would he do that? Could he do that? Or, was he just threatening me to get his own way, assuming I wouldn’t know one way or another, which I did not. “You can’t do that.”
“I can. I don’t want to, but I can.”
“Blackmail does not endear you to me, Sheriff Parker.”
“Oh, now, Jolene,” he said, his voice softening to a cajoling rumble, dipping into that tone that makes my brain turn to mush. “Once you get here everything will settle right down. If your mother isn’t stirring up the AAC people, they’ll leave and everything will get back to normal in no time.”
“Fat chance,” I grumbled.
First of all, nothing about Kickapoo, Texas resembled my idea of normal. Ever. Second of all, what sounded mildly eccentric over the phone had a nasty habit of transmuting into wildly deranged when you had to face it in person. And thirdly, but not leastly, my mother was not only in the middle of the current mayhem, she was the ringleader of it.
For not the first time, or the fiftieth time for that matter, I wondered exactly why I’d been born to Lucille Jackson. What grave past-life crime had I committed to warrant this kind of punishment? Some soul-searching theories propose that we choose the circumstances of our birth and parents so as to overcome particular challenges in this lifetime. That these specific circumstances will help us evolve into more enlightened beings. It’s kind of a neat theory until you really think about it. I mean really think about it. I asked for this?
Since there wasn’t a New Age theory yet devised that could explain my mother and make me like it, I was rethinking my stance on the whole “Satan is out to get you” thing when Jerry cleared his throat to remind me he was still on the line. “So, when do you think you’ll get here?”
Before I could come up with a clever variation of “when Hell freezes over,” I heard a series of loud pops, like the rat-a-tat-tat of a string of firecrackers. Or bullets. Then, a thundering boom followed by what sounded like one of my favorite four letter expletives sputtering from the usually sterile-mouthed sheriff. “Get down here, Jolene.” Boom. “Now!”
The phone had gone dead so I tossed the receiver into the cradle, wondering exactly what I’d just heard. A worried sheriff for sure, but what else? Bullets? Bombs?
Not in Kickapoo.
Of course, in Kickapoo.
After running the myriad possibilities through my ever-ready mental visual system, I determined that any slim chance of avoiding a trip to Texas had exploded right along with that loud boom on the other end of the phone. The only remaining question was how to get there. I usually drive. I always drive. I’m about an hour and a half from Denver International, and Kickapoo is two and a half hours from the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. Add in wait times and car rental time and I can be at the Texas border. So why was I even thinking about flying? And what were the odds that I could get on a plane at my convenience that wouldn’t require me to take out a second mortgage?
Since I had to log on to the Internet anyway to send the article—and ensure that Dr Pepper money would be forthcoming—I decided to investigate one of the online ticket getters.
I’ll spare you the lengthy details of the process, but if you’ve never bid for a plane ticket online, do not do so unless you really want to buy the ticket. Who’d have guessed my random $168 round trip figure would actually get me a seat on a jet to Dallas at the last minute? Not me, that’s for sure. Thanks to my eager fingers and ever-willing credit card number, I had about five hours to get myself seated and buckled aboard a southbound plane. Translated to real time, I had maybe an hour to get my house in order, throw some clothes in a bag and get out the door.
Yes, I am insane, and it is clearly an inherited trait.
* * * * *