The Dean's Murders 

Prologue

Whitby Bradford finally exhaled a huge cloud of marijuana smoke, which mixed with the steam coming off the churning water and floated away into the Sunday night sky. He was sitting in a hot tub on the redwood deck of a condominium near the base of the Purgatory Ski Area, about 25 miles up the Animas River Valley from Durango, Colorado, pondering his good fortune and trying not to feel too smug. Which was the better score, he asked himself, the pound of Mendocino County flower tops that he’d managed to purchase just before Thanksgiving, or the athletic young lady he’d met in the moguls of Upper Catharsis earlier in the day? Her tolerance for high-grade cannabis being far lower than his, she had gone inside a while earlier to sleep, and he had the hot tub, the joint, and the stars above all to himself. Which was just fine, because he needed to think, difficult as it was in his fuzzy condition.


The new pound of smoke would see him through the rest of December, and maybe even for the next several months if he did’t sell any of it. Which meant he wouldn’t have to worry about making a personal purchase again for quite a while—and a good thing, because the local distributor he dealt for down in Durango didn’t like his street dealers using too much themselves. But Bradford had saved enough for at least a month of groceries, partly on the volume and partly because he had bypassed Frank, the middleman, and avoided the additional markup. No way did Bradford want to end up like Frank.


Despite the hot water, the thought of Frank, so newly imprinted on his memory, made him shiver. Better try harder to think more pleasant thoughts.


In contrast to the dope, he had no idea how long his new companion would last him. She’d certainly proved earlier that she could more than hold her own in the sack as well as on the snow. Pleasant thought, indeed! He’d have to wake her up later and see if she was ready for an encore.


But the purchase of a whole pound had put a big dent in his cash flow situation despite the savings, so maybe he’d have to make a sale or two just to get rent and gas money. If things got desperate, he had the use of his Mom’s condo here at Purgatory, but if he gave up his apartment in Durango, he’d have to commute, and the additional gas bills would partly eat up the savings on the apartment. And it would sure cramp his style socially not to have a place in town. His other large expense for the winter, the season lift ticket, was already taken care of, but funds would still be a bit tight for a while. Maybe he could mix the left over Colorado home-grown he had in with some of the new stuff and sell it at a profit. But he’d have to be extremely careful, given what happened to Frank. He shivered again, and, even in his fuzzy condition, the memory of the recent events culminating in last night’s conversation came flooding back.



Bradford knew TyY Bortle’s habits well enough that he’d had no trouble finding him yesterday evening. Bortle liked to come into town every Saturday for supplies and a good drunk, and he rotated his business among several bars, all at the low end of the trendiness scale. Bradford had simply cruised past Bortle’s various haunts until, at about 7:00, he’d spotted Bortle’s battered pickup truck in front of the Horse Gulch Saloon. Bradford had fed several dollars into the jukebox to provide some camouflaging noise, because he surely did not want anyone to overhear the conversation. His taste in music—new age jazz—did nothing to relieve the depressing atmosphere in the nearly deserted bar.


Unfortunately for Bradford, Bortle had been in the Gulch since mid afternoon and was only marginally coherent. And the last thing he wanted to do was to discuss what Bradford had on his mind.


“Look, Ty, I know you don’t want to talk about what happened with Frank, but I’m worried that we could be next. I’m also worried about what’s going to happen next spring, when the snow melts.”


“Ahhh, don’t sweat it. Unless you’re trying to pull the same tricks that Frank did. Or you’re acting like a prima donna, like those people up on the campus.” He weaved on his bar stool and leaned his chin on his hand. “Besides, we’re just small-fry, not like Frank. And I’m going to worry about next spring next spring. Hey. How about buying a round for once?”


“I think what you need is some food, Ty. How about one of those pickled eggs? At least one good thing from all this is that we won’t have to buy from Frank any more. His prices were inflated and his stuff was cut. But I still don’t understand why Sal did what he did.”


“Because his prices were inflated and his stuff was cut, stupid. As a warning. For us and for Sal’s other people, here and down south and over in Cortez. And I sure got the message: Don’t mess with the quality at the street level. Sal’s worried about his reputation, or what his bosses will do, or something. Frank just got too greedy.” The very notion of a pickled egg seemed to have done wonders for Bortle’s thought processes. Unfortunately, his coordination was not similarly affected, and he had keeled over, face down on the bar.



Bradford’s reverie was interrupted by a beeping noise, and it took him a few seconds to realize that he had drifted off and the telephone was demanding his attention. He shook the water off his right hand, reached over to the redwood bench, and picked up a portable handset, pushing the “Talk” button.


“Yeah?”


“Bradford? So I finally found you. You sure are a pain in the ass to track down.” Bradford recognized the voice from his last meeting with his main connection in Durango. And it got his attention. Sal had imported muscle from out of town recently, and this one was scary.


“Hey, come on, man, this number’s on Sal’s list of where to find me. What’s the problem?”


“Where are you, anyway? What’s this ‘Purgatory’ place?”


“The ski area, way north of town. Sal told me to get out of town tonight.”


“Yeah, well, he wanted me to check on where you are, just to make sure you did what he asked. You staying there all night?”


“Until morning. I’ve got to get back to town by 9:00. That OK?”


“Just stay away from that campus office of yours until then. That way, Sal will stay happy. And you want Sal to stay happy, don’t you?”


“Hey, man, Sal’s happiness is my number one priority. And I’m not going anywhere tonight.” The phone went dead.


He reached over to the bench to set the phone down and watched in detached fascination as his hand shook uncontrollably. Maybe another joint would help.


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