Devil's Claw

Devil's Claw by J. A. Jance Read Free Book Online

Book: Devil's Claw by J. A. Jance Read Free Book Online
Authors: J. A. Jance
due to lack of oxygen.”
    “So you’re saying he most likely died of natural causes?” Joanna asked.
    “Or smoke inhalation. That could be the culprit as well. In any event, for right now I don’t believe Clayton Rhodes took his own life. You didn’t find a note or anything to indicate otherwise, did you?”
    “Well, he wasn’t bright red, either, which pretty well rules out carbon monoxide, but as soon as I have autopsy results, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, what about notifying next of kin?”
    Joanna glanced at her watch. To her surprise she realized two hours had passed since her call to the Los Gatos Police Department. What wasn’t the least bit surprising was that Sergeant Carlin hadn’t bothered to call her back.
    “I found Clayton’s daughter’s address and telephone number. Reba Singleton lives in Los Gatos, California,” Joanna replied. “Someone from the local police department there is supposed to notify her and report back to me once the notification has been made.”
    “Good. Glad that’s being handled.”
    “What next, Sheriff Brady?” Debbie Howell asked. “You calling in the homicide guys?”
    Joanna considered for a moment. From what George Winfield was saying, a full-scale homicide investigation might not be necessary, which meant that neither would an overtime visit from one or both of her two homicide detectives.
    “If we need detectives, they can look things over in the morning. Meanwhile, you and Deputy Pakin do what you can to secure the scene,” she answered. “You’ve got the house keys?”
    Debbie Howell nodded. “Right here in the bag.”
    “Let’s close up for tonight,” Joanna directed. “Take the tarp from your vehicle and cover the hole I made in the door. Then put up crime-scene tape around both the barn and garage. I’ll take care of locking up the house.”
    “Will do,” Debbie said.
    As Deputy Howell walked away, George Winfield peered questioningly at Joanna through the top of his bifocals. “How are you doing personally, Joanna?” he asked solicitously. “I know the man was a good friend of yours.”
    The likelihood that Clayton Rhodes hadn’t committed suicide should have made Joanna feel better, but it didn’t.
    She shook her head. “I’ve been sitting here all torn up that Clayton had the unmitigated nerve to go and die without giving me any advance notice. Like he should have been thoughtful enough to pick up the phone and say, ‘By the way, Joanna, I think I’m going to cork off now, so maybe you’d better make other arrangements to feed your own goddamned animals for a change.’ “
    “Sounds to me like you’re blaming yourself,” George observed.
    “Maybe I am,” Joanna replied. “And why shouldn’t I? If I’d been smart enough or observant enough to notice that the dogs’ water dishes were empty this morning when Jenny and I left the house, maybe I would have realized something was wrong and come over to check on Clayton early enough to make a difference. If I had done that, maybe he’d still be alive.”
    George shook his head. “I doubt it,” he replied. “I don’t think your getting here sooner would have made any difference at all. The way it looks to me, once he slumped over onto the steering wheel, I doubt he even twitched. We’re dealing with something catastrophic here, Joanna. It’s the kind of thing from which there would have been no recovery, other than life in some kind of vegetative state. And from the stories I’ve heard about Clayton Rhodes—about the kind of man he was and the active life he led—that would have been a nightmare. He wouldn’t have wanted to end up that way, not at all.”
    “I suppose you’re right,” Joanna agreed with a sigh. “He would have hated being helpless. That would have been hell for him.”
    George reached over and gave her shoulder a gentle pat. “So, there you are then, Joanna. Let it go.”
    “I’ll try.”
    George stood up and rubbed his hands

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