The Carnage was unspeakable. Blood Land.
May 15, 2013
A VG Serial: Blood Land
Chapter 11 – 2
“I can smell it already,” said Deputy Fred Morgan as Pruett drove the old county Suburban over the tangled sagebrush. Morgan worked under Sheriff Pruett the first year and a half, taking the call from a rancher who’d been headed to town for a week’s supply of groceries and reported the old panel truck, parked several hundred feet off the dirt road. The rusted white Dodge was halfway into a small draw, cantering slightly westward, toward the now setting sun. The rancher had called, in part, because of the stench.
“Put on your kerchief,” Pruett said.
He and Deputy Morgan had soaked two bandanas in gasoline earlier, anticipating the supplication of flesh to the sweltering, airless heat—bodies having waited for them there in the brushy arroyo for days or weeks.
At fifty feet, the horseflies sounded like an army of motorbikes. Enough blood had run from under the closed rear door that the loamy ground surrounding the vehicle was stained the color of molasses.
“Cut it,” Pruett said to Morgan, who carried bolt-cutters.
Morgan clipped the padlock that withheld the horror on the other side of the door. Both men left their pistols holstered. Whatever evil had been in this place had locked the door from the outside. Pruett reached down and pulled the sliding door up.
The rush of decay was too much for the gasoline rags and the two cops were forced to backpedal ten or fifteen feet. Morgan fell to his knees, coughing, and emptied his stomach on the dusty earth.
Pruett gathered himself and walked forward. The carnage was unspeakable. Bodies lay in a twisted heap of decomposition. The sheriff could see immediately it was mass murder. The men’s heads each exhibited a single gunshot wound to the head, as did all the male teenagers. Younger children, teen girls, and women had been strung together in twos or in threes, twine tied about their throats to cut off the airways and to keep them from struggling as their killers assaulted them.
It took thirty-eight hours for the medical examiner, six members of the Sheriff’s department, five officers from the Wyoming State Patrol, four EMTs, and several volunteers from town, to move and bag the bodies. The crime scene was preserved as best they knew how.
But it wasn’t the egregiousness of the murders that changed young Sheriff Pruett. It was the facts of the case that settled him at his core.
* * *
Bud Havenstead was well known and well liked. He and his family had run cattle south of Wind River, in Rock Valley, since there were but ten post office boxes for all the mail in town.
But ranching in the twenty-first century had become a crapshoot. Bud had lost his tits more times over in years than he cared to count. And the drying up of the money was hurting his boys, too. They’d been pulled from the rodeo circuit two years running, and for thick, surly, hardened young men, rodeo was the only thing that burned off the angst.
Turned out Buck, the oldest boy, had worked out a deal with a couple of coyotes from Mexico—met them when they delivered several bulls to an outfit in Nagel, Arizona near the end of two-thousand and one. For a hundred dollars a head, plus expenses, Buck would drive a panel truck full of illegals up through Wyoming and Montana, and drop them off near the border of Canada.
Buck Havenstead made ten runs a year, right up to the final trip—the one just after the coyote boss in Arizona discovered Buck was running his mouth in a Nagel bar about the business.
Sheriff Pruett found Bud Havenstead’s oldest son at the bottom of the heap of bodies. They never did find his head.
Until that day James Pruett had believed in his heart that there were havens where the things that walked in his nightmares never visited. Like small towns in the middle of the rugged Rocky Mountains. But that day a Sheriff learned that lawlessness and evil are a human inherency; that you can travel to any of the four corners of the land, move to a quaint, peaceful Wyoming town, hide even, within the four borders of your home.
But evil will come.
Pruett learned that day, it always does.
He also learned that day that if his office did not champion the dead—if he did not—no one would.
* * *
“There’s something I think you should hear,” Hanson said to the sheriff. He’d just come from his client’s cell.
“From the prisoner,” Pruett said.
“Kinda goes against the whole protected conversation thing, don’t it?”
“My client has pled guilty and is asking for the death penalty to be applied to himself,” Hanson said. “Under the circumstances I think I can chance a breach of ethics. This is important.”
Pruett followed the lawyer back to the jail.
“Tell him what you told me,” Hanson said to Ty.
Ty rubbed the back of his skull. “Dryin’ out has give me back some of the memories from that night.”
“Memories,” Pruett said.
“Yep. I remember why it was I went out to the ranch. I was lookin’ for Pa.”
Pruett turned to Hanson. “Not exactly worthy of the evening news.”
“I went out there,” Ty interrupted, “because that son-of-a-bitch tried to kill me.”
“Rory tried to kill you?” Pruett said.
“As sure as the day is long he tried to put a bullet in my skull.”
“It’s more than a little hard to believe you are just remembering all this right now,” Pruett said.
“I tied a helluva rope on that night. After my Pa tried to put me in the grave, that is. At first, I wasn’t goin’ to do nothin’. But the drunker I got the madder I got.”
“Any reason you can think of your pa might be driven to murder you? That’s a steep accusation, Ty.”
“He must’ve found out I knew about the swindle.”
“The one got cooked up with that fuckin’ lawyer. Jorgensen. She’s been takin’ the old man’s money for years to screw me over.”
Pruett dragged a chair across the cold concrete. “Tell me the whole thing. The attempted murder first,” he said to his prisoner.
“Whatever I can remember,” Ty said.
“That’ll have to do.”
* * *
Ty gave the sheriff a pretty tall tale. Said he was getting drunk in his own ranch house when he thought he heard a vehicle driving up the road. He went outside but no one was there. No headlights either. So the old cowpoke went back to drinking.
A few minutes later Ty heard a floorboard creak and turned just in time to see the muzzle of a Colt 32-20 Army revolver pointed at the back of his head. He was pretty drunk by then but he managed to put a forearm into the side of the barrel and knock the cannon a few inches sideways before it went off. The concussion knocked Ty sideways and he fell out of his chair. He scrambled to his feet the best he could, but when his vision cleared, there was no one there—just the acrid smell of cordite, hanging there in the air like a shirt on the clothesline. He stumbled out to the front but it was moonless and he couldn’t see anyone. He did, however, hear an engine start up in the distance and a pair of headlights swing wide and away, the vehicle roaring back the way it had come.
“So that’s when you loaded up for bear and drove to your pa’s ranch?” Sheriff Pruett said.
“No. I drank several more shots first.”
“But you never did see who it was.”
“Saw the gun. You think I don’t know my old man’s pistola?”
“You don’t know it was him. Could’ve been someone else took Rory’s gun. Could’ve been a close match. You didn’t see anything?”
“I smelt him,” Ty said flatly. “I’d know that stink water anywhere.”
Pruett looked at Hanson, who shrugged his narrow shoulders. “Legally? Probably not enough for a warrant. Not with the booze involved.”
Ty turned and lay down on the cot.
“Bullet went straight through the drywall,” he said. “Probably stuck in the wood beyond.”
Pruett turned and walked down the corridor, J.W. Hanson close behind.
“I’m coming with you,” Hanson said.
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.