Problems in the Ponderosas Ch.05byHansTrimble©
TIME FOR PLAN W
As I was driving, Bobby continued to lean forward, her face somewhere between my ear and Val's, so she could be heard over the drone of the knobby tires on the pavement. "I'm not going to do any of the things you suggested, Ken. As I was listening to what Paul had to say, I kept thinking that letting Terry get involved in a thing that's really police business is not a good idea at all. Tomorrow morning I'm going to take the memo from Terry to show it to the chief. I know him very well, and I'm sure that he's not involved in any of the political and financial fun and games that get played at city hall. Fact is, he wouldn't have time, with all he has to do to run the department. I want him to know about this, and he may not even know that Terry has been picked to run the SSS. The memo, with Terry's signature on it, shows that the mayor's office is trying to muscle in on police business. There are statutes about all this, and I want to go with the chief to the city attorney, who's supposed to advise us on stuff like this. Then I want the city attorney to go tell the mayor to butt out."
"What plan is this? I forgot where I left off. Is this maybe J or K?
"I think it's about W. Or maybe it deserves more letters, like WTF."
"Well, if you can pull this off the way you described, I think that's what the mayor will be screaming."
We dropped Bobby off at her condo, and while Val waited in the truck, I walked in to make sure Bobby got home safe and sound. All this talk about conspiracies had me a little on edge, I guess. When I got back to the truck, Val had the doors locked and was holding her pistol under the flap of her jacket. Apparently I wasn't the only one feeling edgy.
I pulled out my phone and punched the quickdial to call George, my lawyer. He answered, heard me out, and said, "My office, in five minutes."
We sat down in his deposition room. George pushed the button to start the audio and video recorders and said the date and time, and who we all were. "Let 'er rip."
"We've been trying to get a little background on some of the people who are getting involved in things affecting our employment in the police department. You remember when we were involved in the problem of finding the stolen object that was lost in the woods. That case got complicated recently and the FBI sent a team to establish what happened." I gave him a very quick summary of Hatfield and McCoy.
"Then, independently of that, a project was started to form a Personal Protection Squad in our police department," and I gave him a summary of where that stood.
"We had supposed that a well-placed police official would head the squad. Instead, the mayor has designated Terry Gardner, of his personal staff, to command it, and Terry has apparently taken some initiative to decide who is qualified to be on the squad and who is not, selecting them from the roster that the police department, through its precinct commanders, has put together." I went on and explained about the interview I had in Terry's office and the memo saying I was to be bounced.
"There are several things that annoy me about that. For one, the stated reason could explain why I shouldn't be on the squad, but if that's a good enough reason, then a lot of other names ought to come off it. Using that as an excuse to reject me and none of the others, seems like harassment. Second, it appears that my run-in with Captain Mueller has something to do with this, but no mention of that appears in the memo. Third, I should think that having a squad of police officers commanded by a staff person who has never been subjected to a background investigation and has never had any police training, is a bad idea and might be illegal."
"I can look into that for you," said George.
"Now one other thing. Mueller is a screwup from way back. I don't see how he ever could have been allowed to become a police officer. I think he disqualified himself when he was convicted of a felony at age eighteen. I'm going to leave you a recording of a session with a man who looked up a bunch of history on him, at our request. When you've listened to it, I'd like your opinion on it. I suspect that Mueller is still involved in police business and I want to know if that is breaking the law. I don't know yet where he is or what he's doing, but if he was pensioned off by the department after being illegally employed there, then I should think that the pension is illegal as well."
"All right, I'll look into that too. Anything else?"
"Yeah. Please charge me a friendly rate. Cops don't make a lot of money,"
George shrugged and turned off the machinery. I stood up, handed him the memory stick from my recorder, and asked two questions off the record. "George, is the police chief honest?"
"I believe so. But I'll ask around."
"And is the city attorney honest?"
"That one I already know the answer to. He's so honest that he doesn't seem to fit in at all with the rest of those guys in City Hall. Remember Harry Truman, mailing a personal letter from the White House and taking a stamp out of his pocket to stick on the envelope? Honest like that. And the county attorney is just the same."
"Glad to know there's somebody near the top that we can count on!"
MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE PONDEROSA PINES
I called Hank to find out what was going on with the FBI investigation. "Look, Ken, I'm sort of busy. Could we get together tonight at the saloon? Say around eight?"
At 8:05 Val and I were stepping out of my truck in front of Jimmy's Pub. I opened the entrance door slowly and looked around before stepping in. Val was behind me, with her left hand lightly touching my back so I'd know where she was. We paused inside the door to let our eyes adjust to the dim interior, and I looked ahead at the narrow space where we'd had some trouble before. One of the guys at the bar, who had the comfortable look of a regular who'd been sitting there a while, said, "Oh, shit, here comes that big mean guy with the hellcat girlfriend. Better give 'em some room." Bodies seemed to part before me, like the Red Sea opening up for Moses. We passed through without any trouble.
Hank was in the same place where we had seen him last, and as we sat down a waitress put two draft beers in front of us. "A little easier getting back here than last time," I commented.
"Yeah, and things are getting a little easier in the world of unfounded suspicion, too. The investigation into you two and me and Bruce and everybody who was out in the woods, is over. Officially we've all been investigated and cleared. Unofficially, I got tired of being looked at funny and told the agent in charge that he couldn't expect much cooperation from our department if he kept us in a person of interest category for no good reason. So he dropped that part of the witch hunt."
"I guess you haven't found McCoy or you would have told us that when we sat down."
"You're right, we haven't. But we're going back to the woods to look there again. This time, we're doing a helicopter search first, with some fancy instrument that can detect very faint amounts of radiation. For some reason, the FBI is hot for the scenario where both Hatfield and McCoy were buried out there, and we stumbled onto the wrong one. So if they can detect anything from the air, we'll dig where they say the radiation's coming from and maybe we can put this whole thing behind us. It's gone on too long and headed too many directions to suit me. It's been as bad as an art theft. I'd like to get back to nice, comfortable murders. Why don't they rustle cattle any more? Those things are just wonderful. Just follow the hoofprints and you've got the case solved."
Val laughed and said, "Will you let us know when it's over? This thing has been part of our lives for a long time now, and as you say, we're tired of it. But if you do find McCoy in a hole in the ground, what does that tell you? Somebody had to put it there, so won't you just be off on another witch hunt?"
While they tossed this idea back and forth, I was mulling over various questions that had been raised since we got on the trail of Hatfield and McCoy. "Hank, has anybody figured out where Hatfield came from? It seemed pretty definite that McCoy came from the government lab, and the paper trail must have been pretty conclusive. Then why didn't Hatfield leave a paper trail, too? Who had that sort of stuff? I'm sensing a big gap in what the energy guys know, or say they know, about this stuff."
"All I can tell you is that nobody's pursuing that question, so either somebody knows something or there's a massive coverup going on."
"When do you go back to the woods?" asked Val.
"Assuming suitable weather conditions, the helicopter search is tomorrow. Everything else depends on whether they find anything, and if they do, how well they can localize the radiation source. If they can do all the airborne searching in one day, then the next day we go out and dig. We'll need some uniforms along. Either of you want to volunteer?"
"Sure. You'll contact Captain Winston?"
"Consider it done. If everything seems to be coming together, you'll get a call at home tomorrow night."
Val was pensive. "What about Clyde? Won't you need him to read the trees?"
"Good point. I hadn't even thought about that. He's in the county lockup, awaiting trial. I'll bet he'll jump at the chance for a day in the woods, especially when I tell him you're going to be there."
And so it came to pass that most of the original crew of intrepid adventurers gathered by the railroad track and headed into the big pine forest on Friday morning. This time we had FBI and DOE agents with us, and there was a funny looking little one-wheeled cart that was actually a wheelbarrow with a pan replaced by a lead-clad steel strongbox to bring McCoy home in, if only we could find him.
It was sort of a warm day. Val and I were in plain clothes so we wouldn't spook Clyde, and that meant that I could wear shorts and a lightweight short sleeved shirt, and I didn't have to carry my full duty belt. I had my pistol on my belt, and I was carrying an AR slung in front, muzzle down, Army style, so I felt well armed. The AR was a last minute decision, and I couldn't have told you exactly why the thought came to me that I might need it. I sort of liked this particular weapon, our rack number 5-32, which I'd spent time with at the range. It had a 3 power scope that I'd zeroed to a gnat's eyelash. Val had just her pistol on her belt, I guess, although I didn't know what she might have in her pockets.
We were walking along, really enjoying the chance to get out in the woods, away from traffic and noise and air pollution. Hank and a DOE guy were in the lead, the DOE guy steering the procession with a portable GPS. They were followed by Val and Clyde. Two more DOE guys came next, one of them wheeling the little wheelbarrow, which they referred to as "the lead sled." I was walking with Bruce, followed by two FBI guys, and a couple of our uniforms were bringing up the rear. We looked like a movie version of a safari, wending our way through the jungle in the depths of the dark continent. If an elephant had suddenly roared it wouldn't have been shocked me.
I heard Val yell to Hank to stop, but I couldn't hear what she was telling him, so I cut out to the left and legged it up there to see if she was okay. As I drew near she was saying, "It just doesn't feel right. It's a feeling I get sometimes that somebody's watching, sort of like stalking us. Oh, Ken. Stay up here with us, will you?"
Hank said, "Probably a good time to pause anyway." The rear ranks caught up to us, and he asked, "Everybody doing okay?" We all took sips from our water bottles, and Hank said, "Let's go."
I left Val on the left and I got in the middle, so I could talk with Clyde. "Does everything feel all right to you, Clyde?"
"I dunno. I sort of felt what the li'l gal was sayin'. Like somebody's out there that shouldn't be there. But they's a passel of us, so we kin make it."
Val, out on the flank, was looking around constantly. I knew her ability to spot anything out of place, and I knew if there was anything over there to see, she'd see it. I mentioned to Clyde, "Keep watching. Anything unusual, you tell me right away and I'll take care of it."
It seemed to me that if anybody was out here with a mind to make off with McCoy, he'd already had a hell of a good chance in the weeks since we'd been spooking around out here. That could mean that he tried but he can't find it, so he'd like to let us find it for him, and then take it off our hands once we've done the hard part. So we ought to be safe going in, but in danger coming out. On the other hand, if somebody was trying to size us up to spot our vulnerabilities, going in would be the time to do it.
I took slightly longer strides for half a dozen steps, and caught up to Hank. "Do you have a helicopter in the area?"
"Does it have an infrared scope, to spot people?"
"Sure. That's how they can keep tabs on us, down here under the trees."
"Then ask him to search the area for somebody out here, other than us. They ought to be about twenty yards away, looking us over as we walk, probably two of them."
I fell back to the rank with Val and Clyde. "See anything yet?"
Val said, "Twice now I thought I'd seen something over to the left in my peripheral vision, but when I looked there wasn't anything. Maybe I'm just overly nervous."
"What do you feel?"
"That someone's watching us."
"Then that's what it is. I want to try to trap them in an ambush."
I moved up slowly to Hank. "Helicopter see anybody yet?"
"Yeah, two of 'em."
"Val saw them too, just flashes. I want to set an ambush. But first, ask the helo if they can see anybody way back of us, like halfway to the railroad."
"All right." He got onto the radio, talking softly. We walked along silently and then he got an answer.
"Big force, five or more. Not moving. They're at a spot we passed before."
"So they're waiting for us to go back out the same way we came in. Can you request more troops?"
"What do you have in mind?"
I motioned to Seth, the DOE guy with the GPS, to walk close to us. "I want to stage a mock retrieval of McCoy. Seth, you'll announce that we're very close, and everybody groups up around you. Then put on an act, poking around. You finally yell, 'Right here!' and then we dig and somebody with the lead gloves lifts out a handful of dirt, puts it into the lead sled, and locks it. We rest for a few minutes and start back toward the railroad, but then you turn left and head for Miller road. Just pick a place where it looks like decent walking. Everybody breaks ranks to ask what's going on, and you just get them all headed due west. Don't walk too fast.
"In the confusion I'll fall out and conceal myself, with, oh say, Bruce and an FBI guy and a uniform. We'll ambush the two advance scouts who've been tailing us.
"Now here's where it gets tricky. While we're doing the mock grave robbery, a backup squad of good guys has to come in silently and form a line on the diagonal to cut off the bad guys' main force to the west and south. As you keep going west, the bad guys have to pick up and come after you, and they walk right into the backup squad.
"My ambush team will get the two forward scouts. The backup squad of good guys gets the bad guys' main force. There's a good chance that one of the guys you'll have will be the one that stole McCoy, and that would wrap up this whole case and not have it droning on till you retire.
"Now look, if they get too close to you, abandon the lead sled and run like hell toward the southwest, then regroup and take up a defensive position. They'll be so proud of having the lead sled that they might just walk away with it and leave you alone."
It didn't take much to convince Hank. "Okay. Seth, in ten minutes you yell that we're close and go into your act, looking all over, here and there. Take your time. Ken, you walk back and tell everybody we're just about there, and they should come up and take a break. Tell Bruce and the FBI and cops to cluster close to me to get briefed."
I headed off to spread the word, sent everybody up to where Hank and Seth were. I had Clyde go with Bruce so I could have some time alone with Val. As everybody got up close to where Seth was putting on his show, I explained the whole plan to Val. Then we found a good place to sit and waited for it all to happen.
Hank turned to me and motioned to come close. I parked my AR with Val and walked over to him. "Ken, we've got a new helicopter coming in so this one can refuel. Harry is in the new one with a deluxe IR viewer, and he'll coach us from up there to coordinate our moves with the bad guys' moves and make sure we get them all. A squad of cops is on the way, from the third and fifth. All with vests, duty belts, and AR's."
"Who's the point man?"
"Your partner, Aaron Brewster."
"And who's in command?"
"Who else? Captain Winston. She wouldn't hear of anybody else being in charge. Lieutenant Cooper from third is her backup. I've worked with him before. Smart as hell, all cop, no ego."
"Sounds as if we're in good hands. For my team, I need an FBI guy and a uniform, guys who can shoot and aren't afraid to. You take Bruce and let Clyde stick close to him, and I'll keep Val with me."
"So you can protect her?"
"Or so she can protect me."
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
Hank sent the FBI agent and the uniformed cop from the third to see me, and we talked for a couple of minutes. The agent was Fred, mid-fortyish, on loan from Baltimore. The uniform, Toby Green, was a guy I knew just to say hello to, mid-thirtyish patrol officer who had been at the third for ten years or more. I asked him to round up a second pair of handcuffs, since we'd be trying to arrest two bad guys and we'd be on our own when we were doing it.
About fifteen minutes later, Hank was talking on his radio briefly, and then gave a nod to Seth, who looked as if he was having an orgasm when he faked finding the place to dig. Bruce took out a trenching tool that he had on the back of his backpack and started digging. The guy with the lead sled came over and put on the big gloves, and when Bruce said, "There it is!" the guy with the gloves picked up a rock and laid it into the lead covered box. The other DOE guy locked it up, and the glove man said, "We've got it, let's go!"
We headed north, went about a quarter mile, and then turned left. Confusion reigned, and everybody milled around Hank, until he explained loudly that we were taking a different route out to avoid having McCoy stolen from us.
Val was looking all over for the perfect place to ambush the advance scouts. Fred finally spotted a great spot, where a tree had fallen but was left lying there, probably because it was wedged between other trees. We got behind the fallen tree and waited.
When the advance scouts came along, they were obviously not trying to be sneaky about their movements any longer, and sauntered along, following the trail of the good guys. They apparently had a two way radio hookup of their own, and the one in the camouflage shirt was just telling his friend in the dark green shirt about the conversation. "I told him they turned left, and he said to me, 'Why'd they do that?' so I told him, 'To avoid getting ripped off along the way.' and he just laughed. So they're on the move now."
I let them get a few feet past us, and then stood up with the AR at my shoulder. Fred stood, too, about twenty feet from where I was, and yelled, "FBI. Freeze! Throw down your weapons back up three steps." Then he and Toby walked over to where they stood, and Toby told Camouflage, "Put your hands on your head." He did, and Toby snapped a cuff on his left wrist. Then all hell broke loose. The Green Shirt guy spun around, pulled a knife as he did, and slashed out at Fred. Fred took a step back to avoid the blade, and tripped, falling backward. His pistol went off as he fell, sending a wild shot almost straight up, but he kept hold of the gun. As Green Shirt started to take a step toward Fred, I got off a shot into the center of his chest. It startled him and jolted him, and he dropped the knife, but it was too late. Fred already had him in his sights and he fired one shot. The bullet entered through the bridge of his nose and exited through the top of his head, taking a lot of blood, bone and brain with it.