It was no secret. He would sell out his family for a bottle of rot gut whiskey. Blood Land.
May 28, 2013
A VG Serial: Blood Land
Chapter 15 – 4
“You here officially, James?”
“Figured as much. Ty’s weak. Always has been.” Honey sipped at her steaming coffee and then stopped. “I’m of course doing us both the courtesy of assuming that son of mine has gotten to talking about family matters.”
“You could say that.”
“I’m going to respect you enough, James, not to waste your time acting like I don’t know what he’s told you.”
“I just need to get to the bottom of all this mess,” Pruett said. “Bethy was your daughter. I’d hope you want the same thing.”
“Bethy was my daughter, that’s true enough,” Honey said. “You further delving into McIntyre matters won’t dig her up out of the ground though, now will it?”
“She’s dead, James. Be a man about it. We took you into the family, even against better judgment.”
“I’m not sure I know what you’re driving at, Honey, but I can tell you it ain’t settling very good in my stomach.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, taking another small sip. “As a woman gets older she tends to say what comes to mind ‘stead a holdin’ back on her tongue. That what you want, James? Me to hold back on you now?”
The last sentence she more spat out than spoke, like a gauntlet thrown to the hard earth.
“No, I guess not,” was all Pruett said.
Honey reached across the table and laid her twisted hand atop his. The sweetness of summer nectar returned to her voice. “James. You know how we felt. But we loved you anyway. You’re a McIntyre man now. That means somethin’ to me. Let it alone. Let this thing go to rest, with our beloved Bethy.”
“What about Dirk?”
“Dirk walked out on this family when he walked away from the ranch.”
“Dirk’s grandfather didn’t see it that way, did he?”
“The betrayal of family didn’t matter as much to him, I guess. Family is everything to me, Sheriff. May not look that way from the outside right now, but damn me straight to Hades if it ain’t true. Hell, Will McIntyre didn’t own enough sense to buy himself a coffee. Look at the way he ogled over Ty, the fuckin’ misfit.”
A look of shock flashed in her coal-colored eyes. “Well excuse my French, James.”
“I thought family meant everything,” Pruett said.
“Ty’d sell out his family for a bottle of rot gut,” she said. “Though I think I still always connected better with his scurrilous kind than any of the others.”
“I think you’re wrong, ma’am. I think you’d be surprised how much Ty thinks of family. He sure don’t take to them murdering each other.”
“You was talkin’ about a document, I believe: the final Will and whatnot of Rory’s pappy,” Honey said, lighting a cigarette and drawing until the butt end was red as hellfire. “And the distorted views that man had on who gets what.”
“Doesn’t matter what his opinions were, Honey,” Pruett said. “The law says you divide his assets how he declared they be divided.”
“You’re talking like I have knowledge of anything being done to the contrary. Illegal things. Things that git people killed.”
“Bethy’s dead, Honey.”
“And you’re her avenger?”
“Goddamn it, Honey, you know too much has happened for me to turn my back on it now.”
“Go and grieve, James. Climb back into that bottle you rose out of and just grieve like the rest of us.”
“I don’t grieve,” Honey said flatly. “The world don’t suffer a fool. Grievin’ what happened ‘cause it needed to happen doesn’t change a thing. Waste of time.”
“You saying you think Bethy had to die?”
“I’m saying the web that gets woven takes on a life of its own. And further ruining the futures of those who are Bethy’s flesh and blood won’t bring her back.”
“Justice will be done,” Pruett said. “Whether you help it, ma’am, or hinder it—justice is going to get done.”
“More coffee?” Honey said, staring him down with unrepentant eyes.
“Thanks for your hospitality,” the sheriff said, taking only his hat with him.
* * *
The BLM was one of the most powerful government organizations involved in the affairs of Wyoming and much of the valuable land in the western United States. With an annual budget of almost a billion dollars and producing revenues of six times that number, the BLM was one of the most profitable appendages of a national government that was, in most other agencies, hemorrhaging money.
The bulk of income to the BLM came from the administration of subsurface mineral rights on over seven hundred million acres of land in the United States. These rights were owned on federal, state, and even private lands, depending on historical deeds.
Ty’s section of property was one example where land ownership was divided between the person living on the land and the United States government in the form of the BLM.
* * *
Sheriff Pruett decided he’d take a drive to Jackson Hole, about seventy miles north and west of Wind River. He drove his personal vehicle—an eighty-nine black Jeep Wrangler—and he wore plain clothing. He didn’t intend the trip as official business, at least not outwardly. He wanted to survey the office, see who worked there, and hang around a little just to see why Ty would have left the BLM’s phone number carved in his jail cell wall.
Pruett needed to complete some paperwork for the BLM that had to do with the drainage of his property anyway—boilerplate information he could have easily handled at the tiny BLM outpost in Wind River, manned only three days a week, but he was pretty sure none of the answers he was looking for were anyplace but up north in Jackson.
Pruett did know that the office in Jackson Hole was bigger and, more importantly, had three or four armed Special Agents working out of that particular location. So if nothing else, it made an obligatory trip to the BLM more interesting.
Pruett figured it meant a hell of a lot more than that, though, and he intended to sniff around as long as he was able.
“May I help you, sir?” the cherubic blonde in standard-issue pea-green BLM button-down asked Pruett as he stepped out of the sunlight and into the coolness of the Jackson Land Management office.
“You surely can,” Pruett said. “I have a few acres down south in Sublette County. Filled out this annual drainage report and since I was in Jackson for the day I figured I’d drop it off.”
“No problem,” the woman said as Pruett handed her the forms.
The Jackson office anteroom was not large but there was one hallway that went back forty or fifty feet with doors on either side.
“Pruett is the surname?” the receptionist said.
A tall man with broad shoulders and tailored suit stepped out of an office behind the receptionist and handed her a folder. He looked up and smiled coolly at Pruett, a flash of recognition in his eyes. Pruett smiled back. He did not recognize the man but from the office layout assumed him to be the Agent in Charge.
“Give these numbers to Mr. Robicheaux from the County Assessor’s office when he drops by after lunch. Thanks, Julie.”
“Of course, Agent Warren.”
Agent Warren spun on a dime and returned to the solitaire of his office while Julie examined the drainage paperwork to ensure everything was in order.
“Do you have a restroom I might use,” Pruett asked.
“Certainly. Back down the hallway, last door on the right,” said Julie.
Pruett walked back slowly. All the doors were open and the sheriff nodded at a single agent in each of the two offices, both in their twenties, one with bright red hair.
After a cursory visit to the lavatory Pruett returned to the front desk where Julie was smiling and handing him copies of his papers.
“Everything looks just fine, Mr. Pruett. I made copies for your files. Just an FYI, our office in Wind River is open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for your convenience.”
“Mr. Pruett knows that, Julie,” Agent Warren said, stepping out of his office, hair parted neatly, teeth chiseled in a federal smile. “He’s the sheriff of Wind River if I’m not mistaken.”
“Guilty,” Pruett said, but did not extend a hand.
“Off-duty it seems today,” Warren said curtly.
It was clear the agent wasn’t coming any further out into the room nor would he be extending any common courtesy from one law enforcement officer to another.
“Up in Jackson on personal business,” Pruett said. “But duty comes in the strangest forms at the most inopportune times, I find.”
“You may have heard of James Pruett, Julie. Raised a stir becoming the first black sheriff elected to any township in the great state of Wyoming.”
“Just an election,” Pruett said. “Though they did charge extra for a viewing in the sideshow tent.”
Warren’s smile never ceased, nor did it change, as if it really were carved into his jaw. His eyes, however, darkened at the sarcasm. “Funny we’ve not crossed paths before,” Warren said. “In the line of duty or otherwise, I mean.”
“I don’t imagine we work the same cases,” Pruett said.
“I hope you believe me when I say I feel that’s a shame.”
“Just when you think they don’t, things change,” Pruett said. “I thank you, ma’am, for your assistance with these pesky forms. Agent Warren, pleasure to meet you, sir.” Pruett tipped his hat.
Neither of them said a word as the sheriff opened the door and squinted at the plume of sunlight.
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.