He was a shattered man, broken in ways that could never be fixed. Blood Land. Chapter 1
April 2, 2013
A VG Serial: Blood Land
SHERIFF PRUETT toed the edge of the obsidian, geometric opening in the earth. Approximately four feet by two, and shallow. The big man ached all over. He’d cried, shut himself up, and cried again. His heart felt so worn down it did not beat so much as murmur; a utilitarian thing without feeling or sound. The loss consumed him, and his will would not rise—muted by a damp, negative space swallowing his physical being. Pruett was shattered; broken in ways he might never fix. He did not know loneliness, or at least he had no memory of it. Now this singularity encased him—an invisible, merciless force threatening to erase all he was or ever would be.
Like the victim of a holocaust.
Sorrow made the old man feel weak. Exposed to the emotional elements. But like everything else, he made room for it. A man got good at tamping emotions down—one here, one there—or at least Pruett had. The problem arose when there was no more room for packing.
And this last tragedy was far too oversized for his soul to bear. Even were his stowaway places clean and emptied, he’d still never have figured a way to subjugate this much devastation—at least not for long.
What reconciliation could stand up to a fate as twisted as this?
Pruett occupied a world now where all the songbirds had flown and only carrion remained. Elemental tasks tested him: waking, standing, breathing. He was a sheriff; how did he go forward from here? Just how did the balance sheets get equaled on all sides?
* * *
A phone rang, interrupting the late afternoon boredom of a slow Saturday at the Sublette County Sheriff Dispatch in the tiny town of Wind River, Wyoming. Sheriff James Pruett occupied the desk and answered the call.
“Sheriff’s office,” Pruett said
A thin, rattlesnake drawl tickled his ear: “There’s been a shooting over to the Rory McIntyre place, Sheriff. Things ain’t good, you need to come fast.”
The caller disconnected.
Pruett couldn’t move. He tried to reconcile the words; repeated them in his mind, hoping they’d scatter, reform, and produce a different result.
Deputy Red Horse Baptiste was on patrol. Pruett reached for the radio, his hand trembling under the sovereignty of fear.
“Baptiste,” he spoke into the mike.
First, what seemed infinite radio silence, then: “Deputy Baptiste here, over.”
“Get to Rory’s place, Red Horse.” Pruett said. “Get there now.”
“Yessir,” Deputy Baptiste said. Pruett didn’t give orders that often. When he did, his deputies knew there was no point in discussion.
“Load your shotgun.”
* * *
Pruett dialed the emergency volunteers. Then he called his other two deputies at their homes. He locked the office and belted his holster; loped down the courthouse steps two at a time, his considerable girth bouncing in concert. The fringes of his vision felt blurred. He would remember later that the town seemed eerily quiet with a Saturday night so soon at hand. He would also never forget the foreboding that scampered like a river of ants up and down his spine.
The county Suburban reached ninety miles per hour before Pruett got to the dip at the edge of town, took the flattest spot, and still nearly tore the front bumper off.
He drove west of town, toward the Green River Valley, straight into the glaring, tragic beauty of the Rocky Mountain sunset. The blacktop flowed beneath him, a river of opaque charcoal, its surface pocked and crackly like old, broken skin.
There was one name playing through Pruett’s mind:
Again and again, as if looped on reel-to-reel.
God, don’t you let it be her.
Not a prayer, exactly, because he hadn’t done that in damn near forty years. More of a demand.
Bethy Pruett was the nexus of Pruett’s whole damned universe. He’d known her originally as Bethy McIntyre—back when she was the cutest little pigtailed missy in grammar school. Pruett figured he’d loved her all his life, or at least as long as memory served him.
Before Sheriff Pruett.
Before the war.
A shiver slid through him as easily as the point of a sharpened spear pierced warm flesh. He thought about the profound force of the inevitable.
You do not always see things in time, he thought.
Not even a sheriff.
Pruett had not paid heed to the thunderclouds gathering on the horizon of their lives. But he should have. The McIntyre feud was well over a year ongoing. Father, Rory, and his two sons, Rance and Cort, made several million dollars from the gas companies that had invaded Sublette and Teton counties; like many ranchers in the area, the trio received a fortune for the mineral rights they owned. But by the bad luck of hellfire, Rory’s youngest son, Ty, got nothing. As the legalities played out, Ty owned only surface rights on his inherited parcel; an oversight by the original Will and Testament of Rory’s father. The county owned all rights beneath Ty’s ground, so in the end all Ty McIntyre got were ruined roads, damaged irrigation, and a further hatred of democracy.
Rory, Rance, nor Cort had any legal obligation to Ty at all. And they didn’t feel any. Luck of the draw, they often said after whiskeys in the Cowboy Bar or across the street in the Wooden Boot.
Ty blamed them for it, as any person might, and he did so openly—to anyone who would listen. Hate was Ty’s common-law partner but toward his family, well, Pruett knew that hatred burrowed even wider and deeper.
Bad blood had spilled in the local saloons half a dozen times. Fists opened flesh wounds and words opened worse. Bar patrons paid the drunken scrapes little attention. Fights between Ty and anyone else were nothing new. And folks held no particular admiration for the McIntyre family. Most figured such business was typical feuding; father versus son, brother versus brother—a few small tumors that would die off once the oxygen quit flowing to them.
But Pruett knew it would go on, and so did Bethy. She knew her family was bad cement, poured from generation to generation and mixed with hateful blood. The McIntyres were racist and old school mean. Pruett appreciated the fact that he’d cut a sweet filly from a corral full of surly, untamable stallions. And though he suspected what boiled down deep, he chose to ignore it. Some of his reasons were out of respect for his wife; she was sweet-hearted to a fault and still loved all of them—naive love from the innocent, offered unrequited to cantankerous, oily hearts.
* * *
Bethy Pruett died a fair stretch before the sheriff arrived. As if she’d never existed. In less than an hour’s time the world changed so much it was as if Pruett had lived the past forty-four years in a vacuum. Deputy Zach Canter called from the ranch and tried to warn the old man off, told him to turn back; told the sheriff his team of deputies could handle everything just fine. But of course, Pruett came.
And when he arrived, he was not prepared. All the talking himself into being ready for the worst did no good. Bethy’s frail, elderly mother, Honey McIntyre, held the lifeless body in her lap, quietly stroking that magnificent auburn hair—the hair Bethy had tended to every other Thursday at the salon in town. Dark, chocolaty blood dripped off the porch and pooled in the dirt at Honey’s bare, arthritic feet.
Pruett couldn’t decide whether he wanted to burst apart or cave inward; he wanted to both scream and be forever silent. In the end he was capable only of doing his job. It was his only handhold on sanity. So he directed his deputies, orchestrated the scenario, as any good cop would. He motioned to Deputy Melody Munney:
“Secure the crime scene, Mel.”
“Honey,” he said to Bethy’s mother. “You’ve got to let her go. Let us take care of her now.” Pruett fixed his attention on Honey McIntyre’s red, swollen eyes, avoiding the horror just beyond the peripheral.
“Canter,” he said to his youngest deputy. “Gather everyone inside the tack room. Get statements. The barn’s heated…no sense anyone suffering this damn chill. Baptiste. You send the ambulance home. Get Scoot and his Coroner wagon. Cordon the whole front of the house, kitchen too. Nobody touches anything.”
* * *
The remaining sunlight gave up its attempt to escape the horizon and the gloaming sky, suffused by clouds the color of an angry bruise, turned brick red. Night descended then, and quickly. Sheriff Pruett’s team continued their mercifully robotic tasking.
“Ty got here in a rush,” Zach Canter told his boss an hour later, after the interviews. “They were all inside the kitchen, playing cards. They heard a truck come up the road, a big diesel. Vance Dustin, the hired hand, heard the same thing from the bunkhouse. By all accounts, each of them figured it was Ty, and knew for sure when he started shouting. No one can say for sure what he was sayin’ exactly, or who he was sayin’ it to. You know Ty. He was drunk and mostly incoherent.”
“Tell me the rest,” Pruett said.
“Bethy got up and walked out on the porch. All the witnesses said they heard just one shot. It had to be a clean one, Boss. No way she suffered.”
“Now that’s hard to say, ain’t it, Deputy?”
“Yessir, I guess it is.”
“Ty fired the shot?”
“Dustin was the first outside,” Canter said. “But he was so drunk he was seeing double.”
“It’s okay, Zachary. Go on.”
“They all saw Ty drive through the lawn and down the road to the south entrance. Didn’t see anyone else.”
“Make casts of those tire tracks,” Pruett told Red Horse Baptiste, motioning to the deep impressions in the grass at the corner of the side yard.
The sheriff opened the door to the Suburban and climbed in.
“Where you headed, sir?” Baptiste said.
“I know where he went,” Pruett said, and drove away south.
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.