He no longer believed that his town was safe from greed and evil. Blood Land.
June 7, 2013
A VG Serial: Blood Land
THERE WAS surely a time on Earth, maybe not even all that long ago, when there were places that evil had yet to find; places where greed and killing for no good reason at all—least of all money—still existed. Until a few weeks ago Sheriff James Pruett believed his town was one such place.
No longer. He understood the truth now. Evil was like water: it found the cracks and the weakest areas and the spaces the naked eye could not detect and it took them. It came. And there was no power more fierce and no flow that was stronger or more determined.
Corruption, torture, murder, family putting family in the ground—these were all just symptoms; signs that evil had run into a community and wasn’t ever going to fully go away again. Or at least not the memory of what it accomplished.
Pruett was cuffed and leaning against the side of the Townsley cabin. The pair of corrupt federal underlings were busy working the forensics of the crime scene so that, when they had finished the day, it would all appear as Agent Warren wanted.
Cort was nearly catatonic. Ty had to be literally hogtied and gagged and lay with his back to the unfolding scene. Wendy sat next to her father, also gagged. Senior Agent Warren sat down next to Pruett, wiping the brittle leaves and dirt from his creased pants’ legs and drawing his long legs up into a ninety degree bend, arms resting on his knees.
“I can almost see the lawman in you, figuring out the scene—guessing at how this will play out. I’d love to hear your take,” Warren said.
“Fuck you. I’m not allowing you the pleasure.”
“Nicely played, Sheriff. Well let me tell you what your town is going to find. They’re going to find out that placing their confidence in you as their representative of law and order turned out to be wrong, like some of them probably thought all those years ago.”
“Honey, dead at your hand. Ty, hanged out of vengeance. Of course, after your rampage, you’ll take the coward’s way out.”
“Cort lives,” Pruett said. “You have to keep at least one family heir alive to funnel the money, right?”
“Things don’t normally become as twisted as they did here in your fine county. The McIntyres proved to be a wily crew.”
“What about my daughter?”
“I’m afraid you just couldn’t bear to leave this world without her. As a lawman you know it’s a common affair. Suicides many times take a loved one with them on their journey.”
“Does your oath mean nothing to you, sir?” Pruett said.
“Garrison Keillor said: Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people.”
“Meaning what?” said Pruett.
“Meaning—to me, anyway—that there are the elephants who rule their domain and there are the campfires of the gentle people who light their way.”
“I’m pretty sure you got that one wrong.”
“We bend the way of the world to our own design or we are run over by it as the scythe cuts down the grass. I admire a simple man such as yourself. Under a different time, a different circumstance, perhaps we could have been friends.”
“I doubt that,” said Pruett.
“As do I,” Warren said, and stood, cleaning himself again.
* * *
Malcolm Whitefeather was a full-blooded Blackfoot. His grandparents were conquered by the United States Cavalry in the late eighteen-hundreds and rewarded with a small piece of dirt property on the reservation. His mother and father were born on the rez and died there, his father, too young—from a dead liver—and his mother at a respectable old age of eighty-two, still rocking her chair in the nine hundred square foot, federally-funded, manufactured home that Malcolm walked out of to join the Army one day after his eighteenth birthday.
The irony of Malcolm joining essentially the same Army that had warred against his people and stolen their land was not lost on him. However he’d always figured it was his only way off the rez and he’d decided when his father died and he was nearly convicted as a pyromaniac that he would be leaving the rez.
Whitefeather made it back from Vietnam so the Army had no choice but to educate him so that he could have a real job, away from the systemic, legalized imprisonment by the United States Government on the reservation. It didn’t matter too much ultimately. By the time he got to the CBI mostly all he cared about was working with explosives. He did learn to care about being a lawman, too.
When Whitefeather retired and moved to be close to his friend James Pruett up in Wyoming country, he also decided to give back to his heritage by forming the Society of Blackfeet Warriors, a group of men aged seventeen to eighty-something who studied the old ways, met a few times a month to engage in activities from poetry readings to movie screenings. Once a year they did a live reenactment of a famous battle where the Blackfeet overcame an attack by the enemy, starved, outnumbered, and outgunned. Many of the younger members had served honorably in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The gods of cell phone towers saw to it that Malcolm Whitefeather never received Sheriff James Pruett’s final, desperate message, informing him the worst had come to pass.
He didn’t have to.
* * *
By the time the band of seventeen Blackfeet rode down from the tree line, each with some symbolic swipe of war paint or carrying an ancestor’s treasured shield or war bonnet but also armed with enough modern firepower to completely outgun Warren and his pair of stooges, the scene had nearly been staged and Pruett couldn’t help but swell with love for his friend and admiration for his resolve and bravery.
A few minutes later Ty would have been swinging from the noose that Carrot-top had manufactured over a sturdy tree branch near the cabin. As it was, Ty had been placed atop a small picnic table that could be kicked from beneath his booted feet, the rope already placed around his neck.
Agent Warren and his men tried to defend their crumbling position and plan—what other choice did they have?, Pruett wondered—but the fear the sheriff saw on their faces must’ve rivaled that of General George Armstrong Custer, his brother, Tom, and the rest of the 7th Cavalry as they faced down the insurmountable attack of Crazy Horse and White Bull and their forces of over three thousand Lakota-Sioux and Cheyenne.
As the mounted war party thundered down toward the cabin, Warren and his men returned fire and held their position fleetingly by retreating to the rear of the SUV. Whitefeather and his warriors knew, however, what was at stake, and they also knew that this was yet another attempt—albeit it now in the twenty-first century—by the federal government to steal from and kill innocents on land that had once been Native American territory.
The battle, therefore, did not last long. Pruett would never know whether Agent Warren fought bravely or cowered behind his men as the sheriff did not witness the dozen braves as they rounded the SUV and ended the fight, but in his mind he would always imagine the latter.
Whitefeather got to Pruett and Wendy first and cut their ties. Pruett embraced his daughter, holding her as though he’d never let her out of his protective grasp again.
Cort McIntyre had barely moved throughout the short onslaught, never brandishing a weapon and therefore escaping the wrath of the attackers. Pruett had seen men in the clutches of such terror, confusion, and outright helplessness before in war, and it sickened him to think how well the vision of the man trembling in place summed up the awfulness and disregard for human life represented by what had transpired there that afternoon.
Once freed and sure his daughter was fine, Pruett turned toward Ty, who was still standing, motionless, on the makeshift gallows created by his enemies. The cowpoke’s head turned a few inches so that he could lock eyes with Pruett. What the sheriff saw in those eyes was the same look he’d seen at the trailhead after trying to kill Ty.
I should have let you, Ty’s words reminded him.
And then Ty stepped off the table into the empty space below him.
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.