It was no ordinary jailbreak. The Sheriff believed it was a kidnapping. Blood Land.
June 1, 2013
A VG Serial: Blood Land
Chapter 16 – 3
Pruett called in the Wyoming Highway Patrol to assist in roadblocks going south to Rock Springs and northwest toward Jackson Hole, Yellowstone, Idaho, and Star Valley. The problem wasn’t the highways. There had to be eight or nine different county roads that headed to the mesa or to half a dozen lakes and mountainous areas surrounding Wind River. And from most of those locations fugitives from the law could get just about anywhere else in the county they needed to, as long as they had a decent knowledge of the area.
They canvassed the town but no one saw the kidnappers leave the courthouse.
And Pruett was calling it a kidnapping. It was no jailbreak. If they didn’t find Ty soon, he’d be as dead as the rest of the bodies that were piling up. If he wasn’t dead already.
Back at the station Pruett found himself alone. He walked back to Ty’s cell. He saw Ty’s face as the masked gunmen were hauling him from the courtroom. He hadn’t looked surprised at all. Was it possible; could it really have been a jailbreak? Pruett still didn’t think so. But there was something else. Something in the prisoner’s demeanor. As if he’d known it was just a matter of time.
Pruett stared into Ty McIntyre’s empty cell. A pile of Zane Grey novels the sheriff had borrowed from the library after Ty declared his hatred of Louis L’Amour. He walked into the cell and dropped down on the cot, nearly busting the legs out from under.
“DAMN it,” Pruett breathed. Killing in war was inevitable. That didn’t make it much better, but at least there was a plausible answer for it. But all this death here, in his own town—his quiet, peaceful, decent town? Pruett hadn’t seen but one murder in his tenure as a law officer in Wind River. One murder in thirty-five years. Now he had four bodies down at the morgue. Five if he counted Bethy.
Six if he didn’t get to them before they executed his prisoner.
* * *
Pruett knew Ty was telling him something. How exactly the BLM played into the mess that had unfolded and was threatening the sheriff’s own town was unclear but Pruett decided he should pay another visit to Ty’s ranch house and attempt to locate that damn lockbox.
The sheriff went alone. Most folks didn’t realize the power of the Bureau. To most the BLM was a kind of lame duck organization that monitored the parks, open prairies, fed the feral horses and wintering elk, and most importantly funded the brave firefighters who battled the wildfires each summer.
But the Bureau did more than manage; they enforced. Special Agents for the BLM were armed, plain-clothed law enforcement personnel that conducted criminal investigations, served warrants, made arrests, and policed the internal regulatory concerns of the organization itself, presenting cases to the U.S. Attorney directly.
Sheriff Pruett knew one such agent, based in the Kemmerer office—and old friend named Barry Fielding—and he figured he might just have to make a call to his compadre once he figured out how the BLM figured into the killings in Wind River.
Ty’s house had been ransacked. Pruett’s deputies hadn’t much reason to search Ty’s home after Bethy’s death. The crime occurred twenty miles away and the murder weapon had been on his person when arrested. The only other visit law enforcement personnel had made to Ty’s residence was the night the sheriff and Deputy Baptiste recovered the slug meant for the cowpoke’s skull, and the house had looked fine then.
It was clear someone else was interested in finding something there, too. Pruett couldn’t explain it by anything more than gut instinct, but he felt Ty’s message to him was meant to cause more than an errant call to the BLM office in Jackson Hole. Ty was mean as a cornered badger but he wasn’t stupid. Pruett had known from the start that his prisoner was withholding information and he’d also known Ty would divulge it when he was damn good and ready—or better, when it benefitted his own self.
And if Ty had gotten wind of what was going down in the courtroom that morning, this might have been his last chance to get the clue to the only man in Wind River still willing to help him.
Now the sheriff had to wonder what good he could do and what he had any chance of finding. Whoever had searched the house before him had turned it upside down and inside out. Every drawer was opened and dumped on the floor; cushions were cut wide and the stuffing pulled; loose floorboards had been pried up and the cavities beneath them searched.
The scene looked professionally executed. Not the ragtag search of a few half-drunk ranch hands. Whoever had been looking through Ty’s house knew what the hell they were doing. They’d been trained to conduct such searches.
Pruett thought about his next move. Such an exhaustive search meant they likely didn’t find what they were looking for. It wasn’t guaranteed by any means, but if they found what they wanted it had to have been in one of the last places they looked. Again, unlikely.
So what did Pruett know about his brother-in-law that a gaggle of flunky federal agents didn’t know?
* * *
The Willow Saloon was nearly empty; just a few broken-down regulars drinking away their government disability checks and mortgage payments. Roland Pape sat behind the bar, reading a newspaper, and gnawing on a toothpick that looked like it’d been mashed with a pair of flat-nosed pliers.
“Sheriff,” Pape said.
“What can I do you for?”
“Fill me up a glass of soda water,” Pruett said. “Put a little cherry juice in it for me and keep the smart ass comments to yourself.”
“How’s Ty holdin’ up?” Pape said as he made the sheriff’s drink.
“You heard about what happened?”
“I heard. Just makin’ conversation.”
“I need to ask you a question,” Pruett said. “And you need to know Ty’s life probably depends heavily on the answer.”
Pape handed the sheriff the glass and nodded. “Sounds serious.”
“Ty ever ask you to keep anything for him?”
“See, Roland, that’s exactly the kind of cat and mouse shit Ty ain’t got time for. Me and you, sure, we’ve got all the time in the world. But Ty, his clock’s ticking, old man. Answer the fucking question.”
“No. Ty never gave me nothin’.”
“Thank you for your time, then,” Pruett said. He left the cherry fizz untouched.
As he walked to the door he put his hat on and then stopped. “It won’t take long for the men who tore his house apart to figure out what I figured out. When they do, they’ll come callin’. My advice is to get in some target practice. You never were any good with that scatter gun behind the bar.”
Pruett left the bar and walked down the steps to the Suburban. Roland Pape flagged him down as he was starting to pull out of the parking lot. The sheriff rolled down the window.
“This lockbox,” Pape said, sweating and out of breath. “He gave me this the night before he shot, well, the night before he got locked up. Said no one would be the wiser and he’d get it back when he was sprung.”
He handed the shoebox-sized lockbox to Pruett.
“Washin’ my hands of it now,” Pape said. “You make sure you tell whoever’s lookin’ for it that I ain’t got it no more. You do that, Sheriff?”
Pruett rolled up the window and sped away, leaving Roland Pape in a cloud of dirt, gravel, and bewildered silence.
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.