What he found in the icy river would sober up a man pretty fast. Blood Land

More chapters from Blood Land

A VG Serial: Blood Land

Chapter 13 – 4

The sheriff bought a bottle of Heaven Hill on his way home. All that talk of drinking with Ty had done him in. He thought about what little weakness it took for a man to acquiesce to his sworn addiction. He could spend years walking away from that goddamned bottle and yet the first sip was always just ‘round the next bend. Pruett had bounced on and off the wagon before; all drunks ever needed was an excuse, and never a grand one either. Before his twelve years of sobriety Pruett had quit and restarted a hundred times. He’d started drinking because his back hurt him or because a particular day on the job was worse than another. He justified drinking when it was too damned cold out, and then he reached for a bottle of something when it was too fucking hot.

No sir, I only drink under two conditions: when I’m alone or when I’m with somebody.

There was always an excuse. The reason, however, remained the same.

Fill the hole.

Every man had one. Some had a hundred. Hell, when God brought souls up to Heaven, Pruett guessed some fellas’ souls probably looked like they’d been carved up with a Thompson gun. But Pruett had long since figured the secret:

It didn’t matter how many. All that mattered was THE hole. And there was always one. For the habitual drunk, it was simply easier to find.

Negative space. The abyss of a soul.

And as life rolled on, the abyss, it only got bigger.

Now, after the death of his sweet Bethy, Pruett felt like the emptiness inside him knew no boundaries—as if all the other holes in him had finally caved into the One. Endless, like a canyon at night. Or a well in which you never heard the rock hit bottom.

He spun the cap off his new bottle with one thick thumb and then he drank.

He relished the heat as it ran through him. It was like a thousand tiny fires burning in his heart and in his belly.

He knew the void he was pouring the booze into would never be filled.

But he figured maybe he could burn it out. Let the damn thing consume the whole of him.

How then would he know the pain, when there was nothing left with which to compare it?

He sipped on the bourbon and reread the copy of the will. There was nothing out of the ordinary. Hanson said it himself: it was stock issue, pure boilerplate. The land was divided equally.

And yet it was not.

Dirk never wanted anything to do with the ranch. So Willy never gave him any land.

Dirk, however, likely would have known nothing about the mineral rights. Not until Ty told him, anyway. Or he heard it shouted in one of the bars.

So why had Dirk been squawking all these months? Money-wise, he was taking it in the shorts as much as Ty.

And where was Dirk? He’d not shown up at trial. The other boys and the old man, they never came either, except when they were called to the stand of course. But they were ranchers—their sustenance depended on daylight hours; they couldn’t be troubled to get splinters in their ass on the courtroom benches.

Dirk could have come.  Out of pure curiosity he should have come.

Pruett picked up the phone and called for the number to the Flying Q Guest Ranch.

“Flyin’ Q,” a throaty woman answered.

“This Marigold?” Pruett said.

“Depends who’s on the other end a this line.”

“Sheriff James Pruett.”

“Well, Hell’s bells, Sheriff. Why’d you not say so?”

“I need to speak to Dirk McIntyre. Is he on the trail?”

“Dirk’s not on any trail that I know of,” Marigold Potter said. “He’s been off sick for more’n a week.”

“Sick?”

“He called in last Monday. Sounded turrible. Couldn’t hardly tell it was him.”

“You haven’t talked to him since?”

“Nope.”

“All right then, thanks a heap, Mari.”

“Sure thing. Sheriff, I never made it to Bethy’s service. I’m sure sorry for your loss.”

“Thanks,” said Pruett and hung up the phone before the hole in him grew any bigger.

* * *

He had to sober up first, so Pruett brewed himself a pot of campfire coffee—threw the grounds right in the kettle on the stove, boiled it up, and poured it into his favorite mug. He drank the swill as fast as he could. Then he went upstairs and turned on a cold shower.

Pullin’ every cliché out of the book for this one, he thought.

He needed to get over to Dirk’s place.

After three cups of the strong coffee, a long, frigid shower, and an hour of walking around the property, fiddling with this and that—anything to keep the blood flowing and the mind busy—Pruett had sobered up pretty well.

He grabbed the keys to the county Suburban and drove toward the northeast of town and Green River Mesa Road, where Dirk McIntyre owned a small piece of property that backed up to Pine Creek.

The driveway down into the front yard had been swallowed up by willow branches over the years and they whipped the side of Pruett’s truck as he wobbled down the half-washed-out road onto the property.

Dirk’s yellow and white Chevy pickup was parked out front. The yard was scattered with junk—an old, rusted riding lawnmower that looked as if it hadn’t been ridden in a dozen summers; at least two cases’ worth of empty Pabst Blue Ribbon cans; also every kind of tire known to mankind.

The shades were pulled and the front door locked. Pruett knocked. Several times. Banged on the door with the heel of his hand, even. There was no answer.

Pruett went around back. He could hardly hear himself think with the creek roaring by just ten or twenty yards away. The back door was locked, too. Pruett thought of Shelly Delgado, lying dead twelve hours in the sticky slop of her own blood.

Shelly Delgado hadn’t been a suspect in his wife’s murder, though. If Pruett broke in and found something useful, it wouldn’t be admissible. Even in the tiny town of Wind River, Wyoming, the days of kangaroo courts and vigilante justice were long gone. The county sheriff couldn’t kick down a door any more legally than the next man or woman.

Pruett walked down toward Pine Creek, thinking maybe he could find a branch and put it through the window in Dirk’s back door. There had been some hellacious windstorms the night before. If Dirk was not home, or even if he was sleeping the sleep of the inebriated, Pruett could leave the branch and no one would be the wiser. If he found something he’d just have to figure a way to get a search warrant. Pruett couldn’t afford to leave now and wait. Things were moving too fast.

Rummaging through the willow branches near the water’s edge, he saw the cowboy boot sticking partway out of the water. Pruett knelt down and then saw the frayed end of a pair of jeans and the white, fish-colored leg inside one. Nine tenths of the body was submerged. It looked as if someone had tied off the body like a string of fish—staked the heavy chain real deep in the ground, secured it around the leg, and then just let the current keep the line taut and the body submerged by whitewater. The icy river would stave off decomposition and the smell that went with it for weeks, maybe even months. In fact, Pruett guessed, the flesh would wash off the leg and release the body first—someone would find the corpse long before anyone smelled it.

Clearly Rory, Rance, or Cort—or some combination of those greedy players—had killed Dirk.

Occam’s razor.

Simplest theory first.

Pruett pulled his cell phone and called his team.

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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