Finding the homestead would be easy. Every store in town, from the barber to the tractor dealership, had brochures containing detailed maps and schedules about the town’s number one attraction. Ben sat in his car investigating the one he had snagged from the Shell station down the hill from Wheaties. Super easy to find, not a lot of ground to cover. But, according to the brochure, it wouldn’t be open for another couple of weeks.
Ben hadn’t planned on any breaking and entering on this trip. And, while he wasn’t categorically against the idea, doing anything to jeopardize his long term plan was out of the question. He would just have to hope to find Max with his head stuck under the hood of a Conestoga wagon or making horseshoes or whatever he was doing out here. The information Ben had gathered was that Max was doing guided hunting tours. Maybe Max was rehearsing to play Pa Ingalls in the summer pageant.
The Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant was the equivalent of Nazareth on the Holy Land tour for those who grew up reading the beloved books the town worshiped. While there were pageants enshrining other areas the Ingalls had lived, Walnut Grove, Minnesota for instance, DeSmet was considered the Mecca for all things LIW. The elementary school born the author’s name. The local Laura Ingalls Wilder society tirelessly solicited money from fans of Laura’s work to procure artifacts of the Ingalls family for display. These things being mere ornaments, the pageant was the start on top of the tree.
Each year a story from one of the novels was selected and distilled into a theatrical masterpiece, held under the beautiful open skies of the very plains where Laura romped, played and grew into a woman. A professional director was hired to run the show, complete with prima donna tantrums and poor hygiene. Droves of people auditioned for the various roles, sometimes with friendship ending battles over the coveted part of Laura. School schedules, business hours of operation, even church services, were adjusted to accommodate the pageant. The majesty wasn’t lost on Ben as he turned onto the little dirt road leading to the homestead. Still, the whole thing made Ben a little sad. His life was poured into becoming a tool for defending the rights and liberty of the nation, while these people spent endless hours pouring their passion into paying tribute to a simpler, purer, time gone by. Ben wasn’t sure what he was mourning most, these people’s indifference, or the simple life he would never have.
Suddenly, a car, blue lights strobing on top, was speeding behind in pursuit.
Ben, puzzled and cursing his luck, pulled the rental car onto the soft gravel shoulder. The brown on brown Crown Victoria sporting the spinning blue lights eased up behind him and a tall, serious, man stepped out. He was dressed in old jeans, a plaid button down shirt and tall, heavy green jacket, and waterproof boots. Despite his dress, a sheriff’s badge and gun-laden belt marked him well as an officer of the law.
Everything was fine. Ben wasn’t speeding. The car was in his real name. The entire visit was legit. Except for the Smith & Wesson .380 under the seat.
It was easy to buy a gun in South Dakota. A little extra cheese made it easy to walk out the store with it. Ben didn’t want to be caught flat-footed if things with the asset suddenly turned bad.
Ben swallowed his panic and wiped his suddenly sweaty hands on his pants as the sheriff approached the car. Ben spooled the window down. “How can I help you, officer?”. Officer. Not sheriff. Ben didn’t want to appear too observant or well informed. With any luck, some kid on a bike had busted a tail light while riding by and Ben would be on his way in a few minutes.
“License, proof of insurance and a copy of your rental agreement, please.” The sheriff’s voice was deep and controlled. The way he came off; observant and firm, put Ben on edge.
Ben produced what the sheriff asked for and handed it through the window, “Was I speeding?”, Ben tried again.
Sheriff Reynhout, as his badge read, examined the documents and spoke without looking up, “You have some business in town, Mr. Tremmor?”
“Yes,” Ben began, “I’m looking for a friend of mine.” The sheriff lifted his eyes from his strict observation of Ben’s credentials and set a hard look on Ben. Something out of place flashed across the sheriff’s eyes and then disappeared. Concern? That didn’t fit.
“Wait here.” the sheriff stated flatly and stalked back to his car.
Crap. This wasn’t good. Trying to appear nonchalant, Ben slunk down in his seat grasping around for the pistol that he had lodged under the seat before leaving Sioux Falls. He thought he felt the cold steel brush his finger when he heard gravel crunching out of his open window.
Ben found it odd that the sheriff was already coming back. Maybe he would let Ben go after all. He hadn’t been gone long enough to run Ben’s credentials. Before the thought could fully form in Ben’s mind he heard a familiar “SHUCK” of a Mossberg shotgun chambering a round.
Ben took little comfort in being right about the make of the gun when a quick glance at his side view mirror showed the barrel of a Mossberg 500 Tactical Shotgun aimed at his head.
“Hands!” the sheriff yelled, “On the steering wheel, now!”. There was no trembling in the sheriff’s voice, and the shotgun wasn’t shaking in his hands. Ben prudently complied his mind racing, looking for answers.
Wheatie, he thought. The bar owner triggered some sort of alarm. Max is expecting trouble. What kind of trouble is he hiding from? he wondered. Ben slowly, but not too slowly, moved his hands to grasp the sedan’s steering wheel.
The driver’s door opened and the sheriff stepped back a few steps. Sheriff Reynhout did a quick scan of the interior of the car.
“Step out of the vehicle, take two steps toward me, and lock your fingers together behind your head.” The sheriff coolly commanded.
He was had. The sheriff was too cool and too skilled to risk a fight. It wasn’t likely that the sheriff would be moved by smooth talking. Ben suddenly regretted his lack of faith in luck as a virtue, and slowly did as Sheriff Reynhout asked.
Once out of the car Ben was cuffed and stowed in the back of the patrol car. Ben noted that the sheriff didn’t see the need properly file the gun he found in the car as evidence. Instead, the lawman stuffed the gun into an inner pocket in his hunter green jacket. After emptying the trunk of the rest of Ben’s possessions, the sheriff returned to the car.
After a thorough search, he placed Ben’s gym back in the front passenger seat and grabbed his police radio off of its base, keying it up. “Scott, you got your ears on?” After a few moments, the radio crackled to life.
“Yessir. That you sheriff?” The voice asked.
“Yeah, Scott. We’ve got a 10-91D on Homestead Road, by Rose Lane. Can you and Rusty deliver a stalled auto at that location to my house?”
“Roger that, Sheriff. Keys in it?” The sheriff replied “10-4. Just put it in the barn.”
“Copy that.” Scott quipped as the sheriff hung the radio back up and put the car in gear.
Why was my car being put in the sheriff’s barn? And what was a 10-91D? That one Ben had to know.
“Hey sheriff, what’s a 10-91D?”
The sheriff grinned and turned slightly to regard Ben replying, “Dead animal.”