The patrol car blasted down an endless gravel road, an impressive dust cloud billowed up behind the car. A steady chorus of tiny rocks spraying the underside of the car was layered with the constant crunch of gravel beneath the car’s tires.
“What am I being charged with?” Ben asked after a few miles. The sheriff didn’t respond. “I wasn’t breaking any laws. I’m just here to talk to a friend.”
At this, the sheriff looked up at Ben in his rearview mirror. “A lot of water around these parts.” The sheriff stated conversationally. Ben noted a sign ahead that said Lake Thompson, indicating left, and Lake Henry, indicating the road to the right.
“Sad business I see a lot of in my line of work. The weather turns and we end up pulling at least one car out of the water. Someone isn’t careful and runs off the road, right into the lake.” The sheriff paused before continuing, “People just disappear.”
The worry melted from Ben’s face and was replaced with resolve. His jaw shifted angrily and his parsed his lips, licking them before speaking. “No need to make threats, sheriff. I just want to talk. I don’t intend him any harm.”
The car plunged off the road and the sheriff brought it to an abrupt halt. “What, exactly do you need to talk to Bill about?” the sheriff asked, turning to look at Ben.
“It’s Max, not Bill. Maxwell Connelly. Irish descent. Army sniper. Dishonorably discharged in 1991. Worked as a mercenary for hire until about two years ago.” Ben stared into the sheriff’s face.
Sheriff Reynhout sighed and his head sagged a bit. “How did you find…?”
“The church” Ben replied cutting his off. “The church?” Ben nodded in reply. “A friend has a big net dropped over the internet. Facial recognition saw Max in a video of Christmas Mass.”
“Just a matter of time, I suppose. Well, who are you and what do you want?”
Ben shifted uncomfortably in his seat, choosing his words carefully. “I want to offer Max a job.”
“Max has a job.” the sheriff countered.
“I think we can both agree that Max’s skills are underutilized in his current position.”
“Max is retired.” said the sheriff.
Ben leaned back a bit in his seat, as much as his cuffed hands would allow him to, “I would like to hear it from him.” The sheriff stared at Ben, thinking. “I know he’s hiding from something. You said it yourself, it’s just a matter of time.”
“You can protect him better than I can?” The sheriff asked smugly.
“You aren’t protecting him here. You are hiding him, and we both see how easily I found him. I don’t know who is looking for him, besides me, but he will be much safer with me, on my team. We take certain security measures, and we won’t sit still long.”
Sheriff Reynhout’s glare softened as Ben’s reasoning worked its way through his mind. He turned around and put the car into gear, pulling onto the dirt road again. “You can talk to Max, but he’s not going to be easy to convince.”
With the escalating chances of his survival, Ben spent the remaining ten minutes of the car ride trying to focus on how he might convince Max. He didn’t want to seem too worried about the people looking for the mercenary, but he would need to find out who it was pretty soon.
The house, that Ben assumed was the sheriff’s house, since the nose of his rental poked out of the open door of an old brown barn behind the house, was an old Sear’s and Roebuck house. So named because it was literally bought out of Sear’s catalog nearly a century ago. Many of these houses, all with various different modifications, consisted of a perfect square floorplan. Four rooms, twelve feet by twelve feet, with two stories, on a basement. Every house in eastern South Dakota, Ben noticed, had a basement. Just north of Kansas and Nebraska and tornado alley made them a necessity.
The sheriff’s ancient house was covered with a fairly new veneer of white, solid plastic, siding. The roof looked newer as well, covered with architectural asphalt shingles that, judging by the slightly amateur hanging job, the sheriff replaced himself most likely.
The front porch looked to be in the midst of its own repair service. Half of the boards had been removed and tossed into a pile in the yard. Hammers, bags of nails, a skill saw and a reciprocating saw, all tools Ben was familiar with, littered the remaining board on the porch. The rotting boards were to be replaced by the neat stack of composite resin boards sitting, half covered by a tarp, in the side yard.
A huge tree sprawled every which way, creating a massive shade canopy, in the middle of the small front yard, just beyond the edge of the porch. The tree dominated the front yard impressively and Ben wonder who had planted that giant.
Backed into a spot that was little more than a bare place in the grass, sat a massive, Dodge truck. From what Ben could tell, the truck was bright red under the layers of mud. A massive aluminum toolbox was in the bed of the truck behind the back glass where a .30-06 rifle hung.
Ben thought it was kinda dumb to leave the weapon in plain sight. Then again, who would steal from the Sheriff?
Once he stopped the car in front of the massive tree, the sheriff opened the rear car door and motioned for Ben to get out. When Ben was out of the car the sheriff presented a pair of handcuff keys and Ben gladly rotated around to let the sheriff remove his shackles. Ben could clearly see the vast lake that lay just beyond the sheriff’s front yard. Lake Henry, Ben reasoned. An old wooden dock stretched out into the water. Tied to the last post on the dock was a beautiful Ranger fishing boat. A tinge of understanding went through Ben. The sheriff wasn’t pleased about him looking for Max but was really mad because he had been fishing when Wheatie had called him.
It felt good to be out of the cuffs. Ben was rubbing his wrist when the screen door burst open. A tall, lean man, with a red buzz cut erupted from the house wearing a severe look on his face.
“What are you lot about?” The man asked, pointing the index finger of his right hand, which also held a beer bottle, at the sheriff. “David, I thought you were going to kill him.”
“He wants to talk, Max.” The sheriff stopped short of the steps leading on the porch and put his hands on his hips.
“Wants to talk, does he? Oh, grand. What should we discuss, do you think?” Max tucked his right hand under his left elbow, sloshing beer in the process, and placed the index finger of his left hand on his chin in feigned deep thought. “I have one, how about which three letters are you? FBI? CIA? Or maybe MLB? Yeah, that’s it. This bloke plays for the Twins I bet.” Max turned on a heel and stalked back into the house.
David shrugged at Ben and climbed up the steps and picked his way across the rafters that the missing boards exposed. Ben followed David up and into the house.