Hellbox (Nameless Detective)

Hellbox (Nameless Detective) by Bill Pronzini Read Free Book Online

Book: Hellbox (Nameless Detective) by Bill Pronzini Read Free Book Online
Authors: Bill Pronzini
were enough time.
    Gloomy reflections, harking back to her concern for Cybil. She erased them the way Cybil had taught her to erase unpleasant thoughts as a child—with one mental swipe, as if they were chalked words on a blackboard.
    The path continued to meander, growing fainter and harder to follow in the darkish light. Kerry wondered if she ought to mark trees or snap off twigs or fern fronds in case she lost her way. Not necessary, she decided. Her sense of direction was good and she wouldn’t wander far. Besides, it wasn’t as if she were walking through miles of unbroken forest. There were other homes in the area. If she did lose her way, she was bound to stumble upon one of them.
    Beyond a mostly dry streambed, the tree growth thinned into a long rocky meadow. Once she’d crossed it, the terrain gradually sloped upward through another stand of timber. The trail disappeared partway up the incline and she found herself plowing through tightly packed trees and thickening ground cover. She stopped finally, and would have turned back if she hadn’t seen what looked like a road through a break in the pines at the top of the incline.
    It was a road, she found when she’d climbed up the rest of the way—what looked to be the rutted remains of an old logging road. At first look, it seemed long disused, but then she spied evidence of recent passage in the ragged carpeting of pine needles and decaying vegetation that covered it. A shortcut to someone’s home, possibly. Or maybe a local lover’s lane.
    Might as well follow it a ways. A dead pine branch covered with decaying cones lay next to the spot where she’d emerged; she noted it, then set off to her left, walking on the verge to avoid ruts and potholes.
    She’d gone a hundred yards or so when she saw the pickup.
    It was drawn in on a grassy area on the right-hand side of the road, so that only a small section of its rear end was visible from a distance. Kerry moved ahead until she was abreast of the vehicle. Dirty white pickup, several years old, its bed empty. There didn’t seem to be anybody inside, either.
    She hesitated, then moved out into the middle of the road. There was nothing to see anywhere around the truck, nothing to hear except the chatter of a jay. Don’t be nosy, she told herself. But she’d always had a lively curiosity, another inheritance from her mother, and it got the best of her.
    Slowly, she advanced until she was standing next to the driver’s door. She bent to peer through the dirt-streaked side window. The cab was empty except for fast-food remains, bags and rags and miscellaneous clutter. Whoever owned the pickup was a sloppy housekeeper.
    On impulse, she reached down and tried the door. Locked. Just as well; she shouldn’t be poking around private property. The pickup didn’t look abandoned. Probably parked here by a hiker like herself.
    She still had her hand on the door handle when she heard rustling sounds behind her. She jerked upright, turning, just as a man’s voice said harshly, “What the hell you doing there, lady?”
    He’d come up out of the trees on this side of the road, no more than twenty feet away. A big man, dressed in khaki work clothes, carrying a toolbox in one hand. When he started toward her, glowering, she recognized him: the unattractive, middle-aged man who’d been called mayor in the Green Valley Café yesterday. Balfour, wasn’t it? Pete Balfour?
    “I said what you doing, snooping in my truck?”
    “I wasn’t snooping,” she said. “I saw it parked here, and I thought it might be abandoned—”
    “Who are you? I never seen you before.”
    He was still moving toward her. The ferocity of his expression made her back away from him, along the side of the pickup.
    “I don’t live here. My husband and I are renting the Murray cabin—”
    “What you doing in these woods?”
    “Walking, that’s all. Hiking.”
    He stopped abruptly, staring hard at her, his mouth twisted into a grimace that gave

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