first the blurb:
McQuede is astounded to find the mummy in the trunk of Seth Talbot's car. Talbot swears he;s being set up by rival co-workers -- Dr. Arden Reed, in particular -- who plans to benefit from his research.
McQuede suspects the theft of the mummy is a red herring used to cover up the true motive for the crime. The closer he comes to the truth, the deeper McQuede is drawn into an elaborate hoax that threatens his career and places him in grave danger.
... and, now, the excerpt:
Whispers of the Stones
Bill Garr, nicknamed “Bartering Bill,” age seventy-five, lay face-down in the old shed amid a lifetime collection of junk, antiques, and curios. With his dicey heart, everyone had expected to soon hear news of his death, but from natural causes, not from a swift, vicious blow to the back of his head.
Sheriff Jeff McQuede could see no evidence of a struggle. Either his assailant had been lying in wait for him, concealed behind one of the towering, old cabinets, or Garr had made the mistake of turning his back to him. As he was struck down, Garr had collided with the worktable. One of the kerosene lamps had fallen, oil mingling with broken glass.
McQuede glanced from the ruined lamp back to Bill Garr’s nephew, unprepared for the way the light from the naked bulb overhead had altered him. When Cory Coleman had met him in the yard, as they had crossed the weedy grounds to the sagging old building, he had looked sick and stunned. His long, hollowed features now seemed ominous, appearing almost to glow with some evil triumph.
“I’m going to ask you to look around,” McQuede said. “Let me know if you notice any missing items.”
“With all this rubbish, who could tell?” Cory replied.
McQuede noted a different pitch to his voice, super-charged, much too high. Grief often caused a rush of adrenalin, and, for that matter, so did guilt.
“Everything in here is dilapidated.” Cory irritably waved a hand around the cluttered room. “It’ll take me the rest of my life to rid myself of all this trash.”
A strange concern for the moment, McQuede thought.
“Absolutely nothing’s fit to sell.” Cory, for emphasis, reached out for a violin with a cracked case and broken strings.
“Don’t touch anything. Not until my men arrive.”
“If you intend to fingerprint this mess, you’d better plan on staying until winter sets in.”
McQuede followed Cory’s gaze. Every conceivable space was piled high with boxes, stacked on the floor, on display cases with glass half-obscured by grime. A picture of Washington hung high on the right wall, the kind that used to hang in schoolhouses years ago. Beneath it were framed arrowheads and below that propped what looked like a battered African death mask.
McQuede turned back to Cory Coleman, the heir apparent to all this and to so much more—to the rolling acres of land that stretched for endless miles back toward the Black Mountains.
“Whoever killed him didn’t know I had arrived,” Cory announced. “They thought he lived out here all by himself.”
“Where do you come from?” McQuede asked.
“Near Sioux City, Iowa. I dropped everything the minute I heard Uncle Bill was so sick. I expected him to die soon—but in his own bed. Not like this!”
“You’re on leave from your job?”
“No, I just up and quit. Wasn’t in love with it, anyway.”
“What do you do?”
“I was working as a consultant. Geology. Nothing I can’t live without, but I can go back to it whenever and if ever I want to. Anyway, like I said before, the sneak that killed him would have been scared if they’d known Uncle Bill wasn’t alone out here.”
“Bill never was alone.” The voice from the doorway startled McQuede.
“This is Lex Wisken,” Cory explained, casting barely a glance at the newcomer, who had the strong features of a Shoshone. “Bill’s hired hand.”
“Bill’s friend,” Lex Wisken corrected, returning Cory’s glare. It was obvious no love was lost between them. “The best friend he ever had. Never a day went by that I didn’t check on him.”
The big Shoshone, whose thick hair hung loose beneath the worn Stetson, stepped into the room. His heavy face, pitted and scarred, made him look even more formidable, enough to stave off a whole gang of thieves single-handed.
“I thought I was getting away from the crime-infested cities.” Cory shook his head. “Hard to imagine robbers way out here in no-man’s-land. Uncle Bill should have just let them have whatever they wanted. Maybe they did help themselves. Since he was always adding new merchandise, there’s no way of knowing whether anything’s missing or not.”
The huge hired man began roaming silently around the shed. He stopped before a display case along the left wall and said halfway under his breath, “There is something missing.”
“What?” McQuede asked, surprised that anyone could make that assertion faced with this strange jumble of merchandise.
Dim light fell across Lex’s blunt features. “The Little Person,” he said flatly. “I watched Bill set it in this case. I think it was Friday.”
A flash of recognition lit Cory’s eyes. “Darned if you’re not right! Pedro’s gone.”
“‘Little person’? ‘Pedro’? What are you two talking about?”
“Pedro’s a mummy,” Lex said, once again under his breath.
“About twenty years ago,” Cory broke in, “my uncle told me he purchased a strange item, a little mummy, from a dealer up in Casper. He believed it was the Pedro Mountain Mummy. He always boasted about owning it. It gave him some kind of perverse pleasure to know everyone was looking for this mummy, and he was the one who owned it.”
McQuede had heard a little bit about this local legend. He knew that a long time ago, about in the 1930s, a tiny mummy had been found in a cave not far from here, a curious object that looked like a man, but was only about seventeen inches tall. He knew the Shoshone had legends of the Little People, a vicious, elf-like tribe who lived in the hills and canyons and shot poisoned arrows. From what he had read, the discovery had made quite a stir, but the Pedro Mummy had disappeared sometime in the 1950s and had never resurfaced. McQuede had always suspected the miners who brought it in were playing a prank to get attention and that the mummy could have been just a fake.
“Do you think he decided all of a sudden to sell it?” Cory asked.
Lex Wisken stepped closer to an empty glass case. “I watched him place it right there.” He pointed to the empty spot in the center of the displays. “That’s not where he usually kept it. He never let anyone see it. But he told me he was going to make an exception and let some professor take a look at it.” Lex looked around as if frightened over what had occurred. His gaze shifted nervously around the room and lit on a small wooden container that looked like a child’s coffin, but instead of heading toward it, he backed away. “He usually kept it in that box.”
McQuede drew forward, stooping beside it. Carefully, using only the edges, he tried to open it, but found it locked.
“Cory, do you have the keys to this?”
Bill’s nephew shrugged.
“Mind if I break the lock?’
“Be my guest.”
The wood, old and crumbly, gave way to his first pressure. As McQuede lifted the lid, a musty smell of cloth and old wood wafted up from the empty interior.
“He’s gone.” The big man shrank even further away, terror now present in his voice.
“I’ll be darned,” Cory exclaimed. “Someone stole it!” He stopped short, seeming to reconsider his assessment. “Who would want a grisly thing like that? I told Bill on more than one occasion that he should take it out and give it a proper burial.”
The Shoshone emitted a stricken moan. “I talked to Bill too. I warned him time and again. I told him that keeping the Little Person was bad luck. The spirit of Pedro is very much alive. But he wouldn’t listen.”
“If he had Pedro for a couple of decades,” McQuede said, trying to assuage the man’s fear, “the curse must sure enough work slow.”
“All these years Bill had kept Pedro hidden away. Pedro didn’t care. But then Bill brought him out. He may have decided to sell him for his own profit. That must be it! Pedro became angry. He got vengeance on poor Bill and then he left.”
McQuede stared at him a while, in no way able to believe he was serious. “No mummy I’ve ever seen,” McQuede drawled, “ever went anywhere on his own.”
“There are powers,” the Shoshone replied with formidable sincerity, “that you know nothing about.”
Amazon link to Whispers of the stone - http://www.amazon.com/Whispers-Stones-High-Country-Mystery/dp/0803474741/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1339699404&sr=1-1&keywords=whispers+of+the+stones+by+loretta+jackson