Deciding on whom he could trust had become a tough proposition. Blood Land
June 3, 2013
A VG Serial: Blood Land
Chapter 16 – 4
He called J.W. Hanson on his way back to town.
“I have something you need to see,” Pruett told him.
“What kind of something?”
“The kind hidden in a fireproof lockbox your client saw fit to hide with a third party before his incarceration.”
“That sounds like an important something.”
“You’d find me in agreement,” Pruett said. “Also the kind of something that’s been getting people murdered, I’d say.”
“I hate to sound disingenuous, but is there a reason you called me?”
“Deciding who to trust has recently become a tough proposition.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“Meet me at my house?” Pruett said.
“I’d prefer she know as little as possible about this business. Might keep her safe.”
“Agreed. See you in a half hour,” Hanson said.
“Make it two hours,” Pruett said. “I have one stop to make.”
The sheriff drove down to the south end of town and turned into the driveway of one Malcolm Whitefeather. In addition to being one of James Pruett’s oldest friends—one of the lucky soldiers who returned with Jimmy Pruett from the jungles of Asia—Whitefeather worked twenty-two years in the Colorado Bureau of Investigations special bomb unit.
As a child Whitefeather had been misdiagnosed as a pyromaniac. It turns out the boy just liked to blow shit up. The incident in question was a house fire on the Wind River Indian Reservation that resulted in a complete loss of structure (and luckily, no lives). The investigators determined the fire had been set at the rear external of the house—a common location for arsonists to set their fire without having to risk entry into the property.
Malcolm Whitefeather, nine at the time, was charged as a minor—several witnesses had seen the young Indian boy running from the scene. The accelerant used was ruled as gasoline. Just before trial Whitefeather’s mother had convinced him to tell the truth about the incident:
Little Malcolm and a friend (who happened to live at the torched home) had forged several sticks of what they thought would be homemade dynamite but were really only plastic plumbing pipes filled with a mixture of gasoline, lard, frozen orange juice, and Epsom salt.
After accidently lighting one makeshift stick, the boys panicked and ran. The fumes in the nearby gas tank exploded, not the useless sticks of dynamite—however, the gasoline mixture showered the side of the house and acted like napalm, setting the entire house ablaze in moments.
Whitefeather didn’t need to be drafted; he joined the Army, where testing showed his aptitude for (and interest in) explosives. He was assigned to Jimmy Pruett’s platoon as one of three demolition experts. After the war, PFC Whitefeather finished his Criminal Justice degree on the GI Bill and joined the CBI.
“What do you have there, Jimmy?” Whitefeather said, sitting on the wood deck sipping his own private concoction of herbal tea.
“Morning to you, too, Mal,” Pruett said, carrying the box in front of him, as he had since retrieving it from Roland Pape. “Somethin’ I need you to look over for me.”
Whitefeather set down his tea and rose stiffly from the chair. “Arthritis,” he said. “It’s a fucking bear. Scratch that. I’d rather take on a bear. These days don’t feel like I could take on a blind alley cat. Declawed.”
Pruett set the lockbox on the small round deck table.
“Ain’t been opened, I take it,” Whitefeather said, his eyes already alive with the dance. He looked like a kid who just got his birthday present a day early.
“Not by me,” Pruett said. “My feeling is there’s some important evidence in there.”
“Important enough to incinerate whatever’s inside?”
“Important enough to incinerate whoever’s outside,” Pruett said.
Whitefeather turned the box carefully, examining the external—feeling the weight of it as it lay on the palms of his opened hands.
He set it back down on the table.
“It’s probably good you stuck to paved roads in coming out here,” Whitefeather said.
“How do you know what roads I took in getting here?”
“’Cause had ya driven too far down any of the shitty county roads, that lid coulda busted real good and you’d be nothin’ but chunks of bone, guts, blood, and dust.”
“Whosever box you’ve got here wasn’t fuckin’ around, Jimmy. You want my best guess, based on weight, and what I know about fits in a box this size? If there’s something in there, it’s an S-mine.
“Sorry. Bouncing Betty. Well, a knockoff, likely. The Finns and French both attempted to copy the German mine, but failed. The Ruskies, however, made a much simpler, smaller version that would fit nicely into a box about this size. German model was too bulky.”
“Goddamn. How the hell do we get it open?” Pruett said.
Whitefeather slowly turned the box around and pointed to a heavy patch of rust. Pruett squinted but had to pull out his reading glasses. It was then he saw it.
A small drilled hole hidden in the orange rust.
Just big enough for a trigger pin.
“You open this up without the pin…” Whitefeather said.
“I get it.”
Pruett had seen enough men blown to bits by Bettys during his tours. The lucky ones anyway. The unlucky ones only got themselves half blown up—maybe both arms, or their entire lower half. Those men earned themselves a few minutes of confused agony, wondering how the hell parts of them ended up over there on that rock or up those branches in that tree.
“Come out to the workshop,” Whitefeather said.
The old bomb man had several boxes of disarmed explosive devices in various states of deconstruction. In a junk drawer that looked like it belonged to the Unabomber, Whitefeather scrounged a handful of different sized trigger pins. “I have no idea what the Russian pin looks like,” he said. “If we’re lucky, there’s a match here.”
“And if not?”
“You know where the owner of this box is?”
“We’re workin’ on that,” Pruett said.
Out on the porch the old Indian laid the half-dozen pins in one organized pile on the table. One by one he slowly inserted them into the hole. “What I’m looking for,” he said quietly, his face brown and crinkled in concentration, “is a firm match. The correct pin should slide in nice and snug and snap into place. Problem is, I can’t see the hole.”
“So it either works or it doesn’t, right?”
“One of these pins gets jammed in there just right, it’d be like breaking a key off in a deadlock. And there’d be no guarantee at all that the trigger had gotten blocked.”
Whitefeather kept working and Pruett kept sweating. More than once the old sheriff glanced sideways for his unopened bottle of Heaven.
Five and a half days. Not six.
Five and a half.
And as God would have it, the sixth pin slid snugly and clicked perfectly into place.
“That’s as disarmed as it’s going to get, Jimmy.”
“Are we safe?”
“We had a saying we’d give to the newbies in the unit: if you’re looking for safety, go climb Mount Everest. This is here is the bomb squad, son.”
Pruett looked into his old friend’s eyes.
“Get the fuck outta here, Mal. This isn’t your scrape.”
“You take out my home you might as well take me with it,” he said, a pearly white smile stretching wide. “Besides. I put that pin in there. Even amongst friends, trust should only be expected to run so deep.”
Pruett took a calming breath. Rivulets of sweat were raining down his face.
“You have the combination?” Whitefeather said.
“Do it, then.”
Chapters of the serial are published Monday through Saturday.
You can learn more about R. S. Guthrie’s novels on his Amazon Author’s Page.