He found his daughter, but both of them were in a world of hurt. Blood Land.

More chapters from Blood Land

A VG Serial: Blood Land

Chapter 16 – 6

Plan B was one of the first things he learned in the Army. Their drill sergeant would say “Set up a perimeter of C4 and a couple of claymore tripwires for Plan B.”

Some scrotum-head would inevitably ask “what’s Plan A, Sarge?”

The DI’s answer was always the same: “Don’t have one yet, numb nuts. But blowin’ shit up is always Plan B. You bring Plan B to weddings, bar mitzvahs, and even the fucking ice cream social when we get in the shit. Got it, son?”

Pruett had no desire for the enacting of Plan B, especially if his daughter was amongst the passenger list of the big Expedition coming to a stop sixty yards away from his concealed position.

Pruett took a breath and willed his nervous system to throttle itself down. If Wendy was in that vehicle there could be no Plan B and that’s all there was to it. He looked down at his cell phone, moved it around for a better signal. He typed in the message, ready, just waiting for him to press ‘send’.

The doors to the vehicle below opened up and two tall, broad-shouldered men who could have been twins except one was dark-haired and the other a redhead stepped out of the driver door and a passenger door, same side. The twins were also clearly Government issue, bulges in their breasts and ankles. No other doors were opened and no one else showed their person.

“Come out, Sheriff,” Carrot-top shouted. “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s not going to happen.”

Cocky bastards, Pruett thought. I’ll give ‘em that. The sheriff moved quietly, trying to find a signal. And where was Hanson? In the Expedition? With his daughter?

Wendy was in that truck. Intuition told him it wasn’t Hanson who texted him. Hanson was dead. Or worse. Pruett’s world was unraveling.

For now he waited. Buying minutes only, he knew, but every minute would count from there on in.

Carrot-top motioned to the SUV. The other man opened a door, pulled down the middle seat, and yanked Wendy from the vehicle. Her hands were twist-tied in front of her and she looked terrified.

“You’re right here standing next to me in the next two minutes,” Carrot-top said, “or my partner puts one in the back of your daughter’s skull. I’m not kidding.”

Something in the way the man spoke reminded Pruett of men he’d met in the war. The kind of men who weren’t relieved when the war ended; the kind of men who immediately went looking for other work that suited their unique skills and desire to use them.

Agency men. Didn’t matter which three-letter acronym. The only thing that did matter to Pruett was that men like that didn’t know how to bluff.

“Coming down,” Pruett said from the trees. He pressed send and pocketed the phone, never really knowing if the crucial text made it out or not. He placed his hands on top of his head without being asked. It took him a few minutes to pick his way down through the sagebrush, rocks, and ground scrub.

“Good man,” Carrot-top said when Pruett reached him. “See, this whole thing can be done nice and organized. I sense you and I both appreciate organized, Sheriff.”

“Fuck you,” said Pruett.

Carrot-top clearly outranked his partner but he was too young to be the leader of the band. He said to his compatriot: “Zip-tie the sheriff. Nice and loose, no rough stuff. Just make sure he isn’t getting those meaty paws free. And get me his gun.” He kept the nine millimeter trained on Pruett’s skull. The man knew cops wore standard issue Kevlar, even in the sticks.

The second man patted Pruett down, tossed his revolver to Carrot-top.

“The location is secure,” Carrot-top said loudly to the SUV.

This time Agent Warren slipped out from the middle of the vehicle. Steam-pressed. Gray hair that didn’t look premature but rather fabricated that way. A man who saw age not as a curse but an ally of time and knowledge and experience.

When he stood fully he was taller than Pruett, which Pruett had not noticed at their first meeting. Warren was more fit. The kind of man whose pounds were necessary—every one of them. When he walked toward the gathering his suit pants looked like they should crack with each step but instead were as silent as a cemetery. He stopped directly in front of Pruett, his face close enough for the sheriff to smell the bath soap the man had used that morning and the remnant lilt of a dissolved mint. The man smiled a smile that had cost him at least five figures.

“Sheriff,” he said, looking as if he thought about extending a manicured hand and then didn’t. The expression on his face said that he was a man who rarely touched other men even in the circumstance of polite tradition, much less strangers, or those men he saw as beneath himself. “Seems you were right. Things do indeed change.”

“Imagine my elation. Wendy, you all right?” Pruett said, ignoring the Fed.

Wendy nodded. “But Jay…” she began.

“Smart of you to get bits of the evidence to the lawyer,” Warren said. “Official document numbers; reference IDs, your friend in the Bureau. But we found him. He’s waiting in town for us—alive, but only until we can verify he didn’t have time to send the information elsewhere.”

“Fucking cowards,” Pruett breathed.

“Some don’t think of us—of the BLM—well, they don’t take us as seriously as some of the other government agencies. My predecessor,” Warren continued, “would say things like ‘well, we ain’t the FBI, but we’ll have to do, ma’am.’ Or ‘guess you were expecting the FeeBees. We’ll do our best.’”

“Let my daughter go. She’s got nothin’ to do with this,” Pruett said without confidence.

“She’s got everything to do with it,” Warren said. “Or else I wouldn’t have her here.”

“You’re doing your agency proud at the moment,” Pruett said.

“Things change as we get older, don’t you think?” Warren said.

“Things change, all right,” said Pruett. “But not the rules. Age doesn’t give us a right to disavow our oaths, sir. That much I believe.”

“I know your story,” Warren said. “Happens I liked the fact you turned down that medal. If nothing else it embarrassed the Army something fierce. That’s not why I liked the gesture, though. I had always hoped it was because you were more like me.”

“Come again?”

“I thought you all should have been given a court-martial and put in prison for your collective treason.”

“Treason?”

“I thought you might be thinking the same thing. That men who didn’t follow orders didn’t deserve medals. But that wasn’t it. I knew the moment I looked in your eyes one afternoon on the television. One station or another was trying to get you to say something about your intentions, refusing such an honor.”

“I never talked to anyone about my reasons,” Pruett said. “Sure as hell ain’t going to bring ‘em up with you, here.”

“I was there. In My Lai. We were fighting against barbarians, Sheriff, no different than the Romans in Carthage and Germania,” Warren said. “Animals. We had our orders. We all did. You, too. Some of us followed them. Others took a different side.”

You were there?”

“First Battalion, Eleventh Brigade, just like you. But I followed my orders as my training prepared me to do. Don’t worry, when this mess is discovered, the pieces put back together, I think most of your townsfolk will understand.”

“Understand?”

“Why you went mad.”

“All this for twenty million dollars,” said Pruett. “All these lives. This community. Are we the enemy too, sir? Isn’t this just treason for profit?”

“Twenty million? Is that what Tyree told you? For their properties, perhaps. Wyoming is a huge state. Several hundred million underground and everyone becomes the enemy.”

“Then you are no less a traitor than anyone else,” said Pruett.

“Maybe,” said Warren. He looked at his men. “Get the rest of them out of the truck.”

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.

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