The sheriff’s heart was hardened by anger, hate and perpetual loneliness. Blood Land. Chapter 6

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A VG Serial: Blood Land

Chapter 6

THE BADGE of the Sublette County Sheriff’s Department was really a simple thing, made of something like thirty percent silver and the rest Pruett didn’t know what. He was no metallurgist. It was a five-point star with the word “SHERIFF” arced across its top and another five-point star with some basic stenciling that had an Old West feel to it. There were only six things Pruett demanded his deputies to know about the symbol they wore over their hearts:

The five points represented their mission as officers of the law.

Peace.

Service.

Loyalty.

Protection.

Honor.

The sixth was that he expected every one of them to be willing to lay down their life for any citizen of the County of Sublette, which they served. It wasn’t in the oath, but James Pruett made them swear it to him.

Pruett polished the metal with a callused thumb pressed beneath a shirttail. He put the badge down on the table and reached for the bottle. He half-filled his glass tumbler and drank until it was empty. The smoky whiskey reached his bowels and stoked him like a furnace.

Words.

Fucking words.

Ideology.

The drunker he got, the more he felt like a fool for building his principles on ideas so vaporous. Great words felt invincible in the strong man’s heart but when confronted by the hardness and unfairness of life became as weak as rice paper cast into the fire of Hell.

* * *

The sheriff’s plan was not impenetrable, but it was solid. Two possible outcomes and either assured that Ty McIntyre paid his debt. The planning came natural to Pruett. The will to act, however, came only from the booze. The oath James Pruett swore when he took office was very real to him; a resonance of the honor in which Pruett’s old man so strongly believed. He spent the past four decades dedicating his life to the honor of upholding laws that stood against the very kinds of selfish acts occupying his mind since his wife’s murder.

Two men struggled to control Pruett—one, the honorable sheriff; a man dedicated to law and to justice. The other man—the devil inside him—claimed that justice was not only blind, she was a deaf mute, shackled by an overworked court and trussed so thoroughly in red tape she would likely never come close to completing her tasks.

Pruett’s hardened heart—the heart hardened by anger and a vengeful hatred of the perpetual loneliness under which he now woke and ate and worked—wallowed in the muddy slop of hatred and revenge. The sheriff was not young. He’d long ago accepted the reality that every man owes a death. No one knew the where, when, or in what fashion. But one could choose. One could decide whether a death meant something to the living; whether or not it cleared a column in the balance sheet. Pruett did not fear dying. Death introduced itself to him in the villages and hamlets of Vietnam—exposed its true nature; the nature of the cowardly jackal, waiting patiently to steal scraps from the lion—from life, the true predator.

Pruett learned that it was life that was incapable of mercy; a beast that brought forth not an ending, as would death, but rather a continuance of anguish. Life drew out his pain, the grand horror show in his mind, eyes permanently seared open to watch. Now with Bethy gone and the devil in his veins, Pruett decided that rectifying his mistakes meant doing something his conscience and his creed decried.

Nothing in the world worth owning comes to a person without a price, he reminded himself when his conscience made its protestations. And James Pruett knew the price of peace. He’d seen much more selfish acts; acts that bore no ends and whose entire nature lived in their means.

Pruett intended to reach an end; an end, he hoped, to the pain. And somewhere deep, in a place he could ignore for only so long, he realized what he needed the moment he saw Bethy curled in a pool of her own lifeblood. The means—the creation of the perfect opportunity—took some figuring.

* * *

It was a Saturday when Sheriff James Pruett made an intentional oversight in the assignment of Sunday patrol. Wind River bars did not open on Sundays, so the department’s rotating schedule had only one cruiser on duty throughout that day and night. The deputy scheduled to handle the second of two twelve-hour patrol shifts that Sunday, Melody Munney, received a call from the sheriff Saturday afternoon:

“Hey, Mel, how’s the weekend so far?” Pruett asked. He reached her on her cell, at the lake.

“Not bad, Sheriff,” Munney said. “Something wrong?”

“No, no. I need to know if you can switch shifts with Zach. Give him your Sunday night shift, take his on Monday.”

“No sweat. Just means I get a full day of skiing in.”

“Thanks, Mel.”

Pruett knew Deputy Munney would stay at the lake; her parents owned a cabin there and Melody and her friends spent every off-shift day up there in the summer, particularly on the weekends. He never made a second call to Zach Canter, who told the sheriff he and his wife planned to spend all day Sunday in Jackson Hole—riding the tram, catching a movie, and then dinner at Nani’s Cucina Italiana. Deputy Canter would not be home until late Sunday night.

Sheriff Pruett now had the whole day to himself with the prisoner. The riskiest part of the plan was the second step. Pruett intended to drive Ty’s pickup from impound to the parking lot at Eagle Heart trailhead four miles into the Bridger Wilderness, and then to jog back down to the jail. If a witness spotted the truck, the sheriff risked identification.

The weekend prior Pruett tested the effects of Valerian, an herb with natural sedative properties and, more importantly, not part of basic toxicology screening protocol. He gave himself double the recommended dose for his body weight. The effect took about twenty minutes to kick in, and though it didn’t knock him down very quickly, he did sleep soundly for five hours in the middle of the day. For Ty, Pruett added a little past double, giving it to the prisoner in his Sunday night dinner—a dinner the sheriff picked up and delivered late, around nine o’clock P.M.

“Damn, sheriff. My insides were startin’ to touch,” Ty said as he plowed into the plate of fried chicken and skin-on mashed potatoes from the Wrangler Cafe. He drank the tainted milk in several gulps.

“Leave the plate by the door,” Pruett said.

Outside in the main office, the sheriff changed his department coat for a jean jacket and his own hat for Ty’s dove-colored Stetson. He jimmied the key locker with a screwdriver from his desk, scarring the wood. The keys to Ty’s impounded truck hung on the far right peg, where Baptiste put them a month before. He checked his watch. The Valerian dose would be kicking in soon. The plan gave Pruett a little over an hour and a half to deliver the truck to the Eagle Heart Park trailhead and trek the four miles back to town.

The sheriff didn’t see a single car in town. He drove Ty’s truck on the back roads, keeping clear of Main Street, until he reached the turn to Skyline Drive. Skyline was the only road up above the lake to Eagle Heart. He passed one or two tourist vehicles coming down the other way from the lake, but no locals. He parked the truck in the lot at Eagle Heart and then jogged back down to Wind River, taking to the shadows of the barrow ditch whenever a vehicle approached.

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.

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