Dave P. Fisher                        
Author & Western Humorist

Double Diamond Books                      
  
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Monthly Feature
    
    Run Down the Sun

 Blackfoot native, Sgt. Jake Fontaine, and Det. Sgt. Tiger Reagan of the Flathead County Sheriff's Dept, head up the investigation into multiple murders. In this scene they meet FBI Agent Blackwell.

 

 
 

Tiger stopped Jake as he walked out of the Friday swing shift briefing. “I just got back from the FBI lab. I went back to check on the results of the evidence we picked up Tuesday at the Devereux scene. We’ve been comparing notes. I’ve got some good news, some bad news, and some interesting news.”

Jake gave him a level stare. “Do you get this dramatic from watching too much TV?”

“Life needs more drama,” Tiger replied.

“You’re a sheriff’s detective and you don’t have enough drama in your life?”

“You want to hear this or not?”

Jake raised his eyebrows in a comical expression indicating he was paying attention.

“You know, you’re really scary when you do that.”

“I’m just showing how attentive I can be. Give me the bad news first.”

“Bad news, the lab wasn’t able to pull a good DNA sample off the spit. Too dirty, but they are going to attempt it again with a short tandem repeat analysis. They think that will give us something, but it’ll be a few more days.”

Jake resumed a normal expression. “I was afraid of that.”

“The good news is, the footprints we found at the Devereux scene match perfectly the footprints taken at the ranger murder scene.”

“The same man at both places. He killed them all.”

“I’d say that’s a big yes,” Tiger agreed. “And it eliminates Earl Talbot as the shooter.”

“It’s a start anyway. What’s the interesting news, oh great Obi Wan?”

Tiger gave Jake a flat stare, “You and Kent go to see Star Wars together or something?”

“Cool show.”

“Right. Anyway, the interesting news is that while the footprints match we have a new set of tire tracks different from the Land Cruiser’s.”

“Since Earl’s rig is in the impound yard I guess that would stand to reason.”

Tiger gave Jake a flat look, “You think? Point is our boy likes to drive other people’s vehicles.”

“Or, it’s his own and he stole Earl’s.”

“Or that.” Tiger grinned, “But help is on the way.”

Jake raised an eyebrow, “Oh?”

“While I was at the FBI office they got in some hot shot agent from the east coast. He’s here to look into all this since the local agents and our department don’t seem to be doing it up to east coast standards. Can’t trust a bunch of hicks to do anything right, you know.”

“Did you see him?” Jake asked.

“No, but the other agents were grousing about it. Sounds like a Grade A jerk.”

Jake pointed behind Tiger, “Wonder if he’s anything like that FBI looking guy standing behind you with McKenzie.”

“Right behind me?”

“Yup.”

“Like real close?”

“Yup.”

Tiger mouthed the word, “Oops.” He turned around to look.

McKenzie was giving Tiger his ‘I’m unhappy with you’ look. “Tiger, Jake, step into my office.” He turned with the FBI agent and walked toward his open office door.

“Now you did it,” Jake whispered. “You got us sent to the principal’s office.”

“It’s no big deal, that’s where I spent most of my high school years,” Tiger replied as he began walking toward McKenzie’s office.

McKenzie gestured toward his men, “Sgt. Jake Fontaine, Detective Sgt. Tiger Reagan. This is Agent Stan Blackwell from the Norfolk, Virginia FBI office.” He then added, “Jake and Tiger have been working on the ranger murders and now the murder of Evan Devereux.”

The men nodded at the sour faced agent who only gave them a steady stare.

“Agent Blackwell is here to look into the disappearance of two undercover Federal Wildlife Officers. I explained to him that the officers had made minimal contact with this department. I didn’t even know they were missing.”

“The wildlife officers fell off the radar last week,” Blackwell took over the conversation.

“I thought they were working out of the Kalispell FBI office,” Jake commented. “They didn’t know the officers were missing until now?”

“Mind if I finish my account?” Blackwell replied sharply.

Jake glared at Blackwell and bit back the comment he wanted to make.

Blackwell curled his lip up at Jake then continued. “They were doing their own thing and only touching base with that office. Poor way to do business, but what can you expect from wildlife guys. They left a report with the Kalispell office that they were meeting a poacher out by Lion Lake, wherever that is. When they didn’t check in for a few days the agents thought they were still undercover and didn’t want to surface. They have yet to resurface. Naturally, we suspect the worst.”

“Do you want us to search the Lion Lake area?” Jake asked.

“No. I want you to show me and my agents the location and let us conduct a proper search. We have the appropriate resources and skills.”

All three sheriff’s men glowered at him.

Blackwell ignored the looks. “The guy they were squeezing is an Ignatius Sweeney. He had been busted in connection with a poacher ring and agreed to help the wildlife officers nail the players.”

“We knew that much,” Jake replied coolly. “I assume you talked to Sweeney?”

“Naturally. He claimed he didn’t know why the wildlife officers were out at Lion Lake. They hadn’t gone through him for that meet.”

“Don’t believe him,” Jake remarked.

“Of course I don’t, think I’m a rookie? We’re going to squeeze him some more. Get the truth out of him. Tell me about Sweeney.”

“Why us?” Tiger broke in with obvious annoyance. “Don’t your superior resources have all that?”

McKenzie snapped a reproving glance at Tiger who clearly didn’t care if the Lieutenant liked the comment or not. McKenzie let it ride.

Blackwell’s humorless eyes locked on Tiger’s who gave no quarter to him. “Sometimes the local authorities have a  line on local crooks.”

Without taking his eyes off Blackwell’s Tiger replied brusquely, “Iggy’s a two-bit crook, cheats at cards, fences, sets up deals between parties, runs a shady private eye business, but operates mainly as a bookie. He hires muscle when he needs it, but is a coward himself. He’s been around here all his life. We arrest him every once in a while on municipal and misdemeanor stuff. He’s a little fish that’s good bait for bigger fish. Lean on him hard enough and he’ll crack like an egg.”

“Thank you, Detective Reagan,” Blackwell replied tersely.

“You’re welcome,” Tiger replied in the same tone.”

Blackwell glanced around at McKenzie and Jake. “While I’m here I will also be looking into the ranger murders since there seems to be some doubt that the man in custody was actually the killer. Then, there’s the Evan Devereux killing. I’ll be on that too. What have you people got going on out here? Open season on federal officers and lawyers?”

“Yeah,” Tiger snapped at him, “but it’s on a permit draw basis. You have to apply to get a permit to shoot a Fed. There’s a long line.”

Blackwell glared at Tiger. “Is that supposed to be funny?”

“Makes about as much sense as that stupid ‘open season’ remark of yours.”

The two men stood glaring at each other.

Jake broke the standoff. “We have connected matching footprints between the ranger killings and Devereux’s. That was one of the inconsistencies Devereux had raised in court. The boots Earl Talbot was wearing the night we picked him up didn’t match any at the scene. Now, we have matching prints made while Talbot is in custody. The killer is out there yet. It’s not Earl Talbot.”

Blackwell broke off his stare down with Tiger and shifted his eyes to Jake.

Jake went on, “Devereux was pushing to find the real killer in the ranger case. He was most likely killed because he was getting too close to exposing the guy.”

Blackwell rolled his eyes back. “Does this in any way tie into the missing wildlife officers or are you simply grandstanding?”

Jake’s dark skin turned darker with anger. He growled through his clenched teeth, “The rangers were killed stopping a poacher. Devereux was trying to find that poacher and clear the man taking the fall. He gets sniped off because the killer of the rangers, the poacher, doesn’t want to get caught. The missing wildlife officers were meeting a poacher. The common word here is poacher. Same man, maybe?”

“We will decide that,” Blackwell replied gruffly.

“I can have a deputy guide your people out to Lion Lake in the morning,” McKenzie volunteered.

“I’m sure Agents Allen or Hirsh knows where it is. We don’t need your man.”

“It’s still our jurisdiction and I want some of my people out there,” McKenzie replied flatly.

Blackwell studied McKenzie as if he were a rookie cadet. “Go where you want, just don’t screw up our investigation.”

Red began to creep up McKenzie’s neck and face along with his anger.

Jake broke in, “I want to have a look around the area and see if there’s a connection to the other killings.”

Blackwell gave him an incredulous look, “Like what?”

“Footprints.”

Blackwell huffed a cynical laugh, “What? You heap big tracker or something – Tonto?”

Jake’s eyes locked with Blackwell’s. “I want to get a look around before your city boys tromp up the ground like a bunch of first graders on a scavenger hunt.”

The agent’s bemused look fell into a scowl. “I take that as a personal insult to the Bureau.”

“I have a few other suggestions where you can take it – and put it,” Jake replied. “You don’t know this country. If we have a crime scene on my turf, I don’t want you screwing it up.”

Blackwell snorted, “Everything between the Pacific and the Atlantic is my turf.

“Yeah, we watched you move in.” Jake’s tone lowered with a fighting bite to it. “We conceded, but never surrendered. It’s still my turf.” Jake turned and walked out the door leaving it swing open behind him.

Tiger followed him out.

Blackwell glared after them as he mocked, “Still my turf. Dream on, Tonto.”

McKenzie held his voice down but the anger seeped through. “Blackwell, the Sheriff wants us to cooperate fully with your investigation, but if you ever talk down to one of my men again I’ll hand the Sheriff your head.”

Blackwell huffed a laugh at McKenzie, “You’ll have a hard time taking it.”

“No, I won’t. You’re free to leave my office now.”

With a snort of disdain Blackwell walked out of the office and swaggered down the hall and out the door to the parking lot.

Tiger watched the agent walk out as he said to Jake, “I’m sure down deep he’s really a sensitive person. Loving, gentle. Probably feels the impulse to dance like a sprite when he smells flowers.”

Tiger’s humorous timing served to disarm Jake’s anger. He glanced at Tiger, “You mean he’s just misunderstood?”

“Yeah.”

Jake chuckled, “He’s really a beautiful person you know.”

Grady walked past Jake and Tiger headed for the parking lot. “Jeez, where can I puke,” he said.

“In Blackwell’s lap,” Tiger shot back at Grady.

“Enjoy your double shift,” Jake added to Grady’s back.

Grady waved a hand over his head as acknowledgement.

“He used all his fingers. That’s a good sign,” Tiger quipped.

“A very good sign,” Jake replied.

Beau walked up to Jake. He was still feeling embarrassed and awkward from his previous confrontation with Jake. “Hey, Jake.”

Jake turned and smiled at Beau, “Hey, Beau.”

“I heard something about matching footprints between the Park and the Devereux scene. What’s all that?”

“You heard right,” Jake answered. “The bootprints found at the Park scene match the prints we found at Devereux’s.”

“And Earl Talbot’s in jail. Sounds like a key piece of evidence. Earl Talbot didn’t do the Park.”

Jake shook his head. “Earl’s not the man.”

“What makes you think the bootprints belong to Silas?”

“My gut says they do. The gut doesn’t get you warrants though.”

“So, it’s just the tracks so far? Nothing to pin it on Silas?”

“The same bootprints at each scene is the only connection so far. However, our shooter is driving another vehicle now.”

“Do you know what it is?” Beau asked.

Jake shook his head, “Not yet. We found the tire tracks at the Devereux scene.”

“Could it be Harley’s pickup?”

“It’s possible. That would keep Silas in the spotlight.”

Beau frowned, “But, there’s not enough probable cause for a judge to issue a search warrant for Silas’ or Harley’s property.”

“Nope. We need more. If we could go up to their places we’d probably find those boot and tire tracks all over.”

“But suspecting someone’s boots is a shot in the dark, at least that’s what a judge will say. It’s only a theory.”

“You got it. A judge would see it as an unreasonable violation of Silas and Harley’s Fourth Amendment rights.”

Beau looked thoughtful, “But if we can get Silas on something we can get his boots and a warrant to search. We’d also get a DNA sample.”

Jake grinned at Beau, “You keep thinking like that and the next set of stripes will be on your sleeves.”

Beau smiled, pleased with the compliment. “I’ve got a lot more to learn before I can do what you do.”

“Smoke and mirrors, Beau. I just make it look good.”

“That’s all it is,” Tiger broke in. “Jake’s actually a hologram, he’s really home watching TV.”

Jake glanced at Tiger, “I hate TV.”

Tiger gave him a sympathetic look, “No wonder you’re so backwards,”

Beau laughed. “Guess I’d better hit the road.” He walked down the hall and out the door.

“Kid’s got the making’s of a great cop,” Jake commented.

“Yeah,” Tiger agreed, “he’s a good kid. Reminds me of myself at that age.”

“You haven’t reached his age yet. You’re still like twelve years old.”

“Well, I mean I would have been like that when I get to be his age.”

Jake stared at Tiger, “You know what’s scary? That almost made sense. I need to get away from you before my sanity snaps.”

Tiger snorted, “Why should you be the only one around here with sanity?”

McKenzie stepped out of his office and looked up and down the hall. He spotted Jake and Tiger and called out for them to come into his office.

Jake and Tiger complied.

“Sorry, Jake, about that ‘heap big tracker Tonto’ business of Blackwell’s,” McKenzie said as Jake and Tiger stepped into the office.

Jake shrugged, “I’m used to it.”

McKenzie grinned, “I liked your answer though.”

Jake smiled without a reply.

“I want the two of you out at Lion Lake tomorrow morning. Keep an eye on Blackwell. Allen and Hirsh are good cops and they won’t mess anything up, but I don’t trust Blackwell to not show off and make a mess of things.”

“How much contact did you have with those wildlife guys?” Tiger asked.

“Not much,” McKenzie replied. “They called the Sheriff as a courtesy and he passed it on to me, but they were linked up with the FBI office and kept it there. When I called the FBI office they told me they had Iggy for illegal wildlife trafficking and using ten years in federal prison as leverage in forcing his compliance.”

“Didn’t sound like the FBI had much contact with them either,” Tiger commented.

“Doesn’t sound like it.”

“No idea who they were contacting out at the lake?” Jake asked.

McKenzie shook his head. “I didn’t even know they were going out there.”

Tiger looked at McKenzie, “Sounds like the guy they met was the last guy they met.”

“From what Agent Wonderful was saying it sounds like it,” McKenzie replied.

“The most likely meeting places would be the north or south parking lots. Kids go out there on weekend nights, but during the week and late at night there wouldn’t be anyone out there,” Jake added.

“Whichever lot Blackwell’s not at, start there,” McKenzie instructed.

“I’d like to have Beau out there to help. He’s a hunter and outdoorsman, he knows how to see things in the woods that those city boys would overlook. Besides that, he’s on my team.”

McKenzie nodded, “Go ahead. The experience will be good for him.”

 

Jake pulled the Durango into Beau’s driveway at nine the next morning. Beau was and in uniform and ready. He walked out of the small house he rented in Kalispell and climbed in next to Jake.

“Get some sleep?” Jake asked.

“More than I get when I’m on Grandpa’s ranch.”

“Tiger’s going to meet us at the north lot. We’ll see where Blackwell’s set up and go from there.”

“Thanks for including me in on this Jake.”

“Good experience for you and you know your way around in the woods. If those guys are dead we won’t find them in the trash can.”

Beau nodded and was silent for several minutes before slowly starting with what he wanted to say. “I’m sorry I went off on you like that the other night. I’ve felt like an idiot rookie ever since.”

“I’m sorry I had to dress you down like that in front of everyone but you kind of boxed me into a corner.”

“You were right to. You have your authority to maintain. I hope we’re still friends.”

Jake grinned, “Beau, it takes a lot more than a disagreement for me to drop a friend. We’re good.”

“Thanks. I have a ton to learn yet.”

“You have a jump on me. I was your age when I finally got accepted into the department. I don’t even want to think about how many times Sgt. McKenzie ripped me apart.”

“Sgt. McKenzie?”

“You don’t think he came out of the academy a Lieutenant do you?”

“No, I guess not. It’s just hard to picture him as a regular patrol deputy. I’ve always known him as a Lieutenant.”

“He’s a good guy. He’s by the book, but he will overlook small things and show you how to fix your mistakes. When it comes to backing us up, he’s there. Not like others I can think of who are quick to throw you under the bus to keep themselves looking good. He’s even disputed with the sheriff for us. I think that’s why he likes McKenzie so much, he’s got nerve.”

“I’ve always been kind of scared of him. That is until my dad. He brought me in his office and we talked. I’m not scared of him anymore. I just have a truckload of respect for him.”

“He’s earned it.”

They rode along in silence for several minutes before Beau asked, “Going hunting this year?”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Jake replied.

“You have a favorite place?”

“Several. Grandpa ran a hunting outfit for forty years in the Flathead and Whitefish ranges. I worked with him from the time I went to live with him until I became a deputy.”

“Does he still operate it?”

“He sold it a few years back. Too many overweight whiners wanting to be babied. He got tired of dealing with them. Now, he and I, and Cal pack out to the old spots.”

“Bet that’s a great time. We always hunt down on the ranch. Some big bucks and bulls in there that no one else can get to except Grandpa’s few friends who he lets in.” Beau paused and looked out the side window. “This will be the first year since I was twelve Dad won’t be joining us.”

“It’s rough, I know.”

“You do know.” Beau looked at Jake, “How long does it take before it stops tearing you apart?”

Jake shrugged, “Time dulls the edges. Certain things will trigger it all back, but you learn to move past it. You have a good supportive family. I’m sure that will help.”

“Yeah, we’re pretty tight.”

“I had my Grandpa. He got me through some tough spots and kept my feet on a straight trail.” Jake smiled at the memory, “He was pretty tough on me sometimes as a teen. Made me see what was right and wrong, and more importantly what was stupid.”

“Your people have been bucking a stacked deck for a long time. It’s probably harder being a teen when you’re native.”

“Comes down to choices. It has nothing to do with race. You make good choices or you make bad ones. No one is forcing our people into drugs and alcohol. Its choices. Grandpa made me see the big picture and what my future could be depending on my choices.

“Like when I was fifteen. I was in town hanging with some bad Indians. I had stolen a can of beer from a store and was drinking it. Wouldn’t you know it but here comes Grandpa in his pickup. He knew right where to go to find me. He ripped the beer out of my hand and dumped it out, then told me to get in the truck or he’d stuff me in it upside down. You didn’t ever smart off to him. I got in. The guys I was with kept their mouths shut too.

“He took me in the store and made me hand the clerk the empty can and pay for it. He worked my butt off for a week solid, fourteen hours a day. I must have shoveled a semi load of horse manure. He said if I had enough loose time to hang out with renegades I didn’t have enough to do. I tell you what, I learned a valuable lesson and I never did it again. I could be here today or laying in a Hungry Horse alley drunk. Leadership for the youth and good choices, that’s what we need today.”

“Like when you stopped Cal from taking that beer.”

“Yes, like that. He’s got a lot going for him and I’m going to make sure he realizes his full potential.”

“My dad did the same thing with us,” Beau remarked.

“He sounds like a great man, wish I could have known him.”

“He was, or should I say is a great man. His lessons and inspiration didn’t die with him.”

“As my Grandpa would say, ‘well said’.”

They fell back into silence.

Jake turned off the road and headed for the north side parking lot at the lake. Pulling into the lot he saw a cluster of FBI vehicles and men walking around. He intended to avoid Blackwell if at all possible.

Driving around to the far side of the lot he saw Blackwell in his suit and tie standing with his hands on his hips giving commands. He glared at Jake as he drove past him.

“Well, I see Mr. Happy is a bowl of sunshine this morning,” Jake commented dryly.

Beau pointed, “There’s Tiger across the lot.”

Jake nodded as he saw Tiger. “Let’s hope we get lucky today.”


 

 

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