Copyright© 2020 by Graybyrd
Sheriff Johnson well recalled Bertrand Adams from the man’s involvement with the ‘clown circus’ as he’d come to regard the incident of the three Methow Valley men who’d accosted Patch Adams and Purdy Kendricks and ‘accidentally’ shot Purdy during a show of bravado, ‘killing’ Patch’s ancient Model A truck with pistol shots through the radiator.
Yes, he remembered quite well. But he didn’t have any specific identification or photographs of their lawyer.
Wait a minute, he thought. He appeared in county court during arraignment. He had to present his credentials! They must have a record; he must be registered to practice law in Washington. Let me get somebody on that. YES! I know just the person.
Johnson whistled a happy little tune while he walked down the street, turned the corner, and strode into Abner Goode’s law office.
“Greetings, Ellie. How’s my most favorite fashion plate this morning?” he teased.
Ellie looked up from an IBM Selectric typewriter. A selection of the new spinning font ball typing elements lay beside the machine. Her hands were protected in latex gloves.
“Oh, hello Sheriff! You’ve caught me at a bad moment, I’m afraid.” She scowled slightly, her face shadowed under a green clerk’s eyeshade. A dark blue apron covered her tight-waisted linen blouse that rose to flared shoulder puffs over scarlet-striped sleeves. The sleeves narrowed to end in ribbon-entwined lace cuffs. Her ever-present arm garters, sequined white satin with gold threaded edging, restrained her dainty lace cuffs safely above the ‘danger zone’ of a carbon-stained type element which she held disdainfully in one gloved hand.
“Abner can be such a ... a test, I’m afraid. He insists on forcing the latest ‘things’ in office technology on me, despite my most vehement protestations. This ‘monster machine,’ for instance. Why, it makes my head spin to watch this crazy little ball jiggle and wiggle and spin and bounce when I type. I’d never contemplated such an absurd notion. But, oh no ... Abner simply insists that I must have it. Why, Ellie, he says. It’s the very latest that IBM offers. There’ll never be key lever tangles, and cleaning the type will be SO much easier.
Then he tells me I’m the only one! The very first to have one! Imagine that. It’s a prototype! The amazing man has some contact or connections and he got this amazing invention for me to put it to the test. But PAH! Just look at these things. Different type faces for different documents, he says. As if standard Pica Courier hasn’t served us so well, all these years!”
Justin raised his hand to stifle his laugh. He could see that Ellie was immensely proud of her new ‘monster machine.’ It was only that she hadn’t made the decision or the choice; that’s what irritated her. By the end of the week, if past experience was any guide, she’d be rolling along at a steady 90 to 100 words a minute with documents literally flying off the platen.
“Ellie, dear, is he in?”
“Oh, of course, Justin. Forgive my ranting. I’m so silly sometimes. Of course, he’s in, go right ahead. And may I say, sir, how proud we are of you and your men? That was a nasty business with those kidnappers, and you saved those dear Methow Valley women, Mrs. Jacobs and her daughter. Congratulations, Justin!”
“Your praise warms my heart, Ellie. Thank you. But--confidentially, of course--we have yet to run the instigator to ground. Abner may ask you to file a request for attorney registration records from Olympia.”
“Oh, silly man! We’re not totally blind or unaware over here. Are these the papers you’re looking for?”
Ellie expertly peeled off one glove; gingerly gripped the other glove’s cuff with clean fingers and peeled it down and off. She reached over to her HOLD tray and lifted a folder. She extended it to Justin who reached over the low counter to take it.
“Abner surmised you’d be in. I called Olympia and had these fax’ed over. I expended one or two favors with the clerks there, but that’s alright. I’ve got a few dozen more reserved for another time.”
Justin flipped through the registration and identification documents. Oh Hell! There’s even a photocopy of his driver’s license and a mug shot!
“Ellie, I’m out of here. Forgive my haste but we’ve got an alert notice to put out. You’ve just saved me hours of time and endless hassles with the bureaucracy. I do owe you one. And give Abner my thanks!”
“Oh, pshaw, silly man. That’s about eighteen and counting that you owe me. Don’t worry about it. And good hunting!”
Sheriff’s dispatcher Amber Jones had not only an evil grin, she had a cynical mind. She trusted very few people. She typically expected the worst of everybody. Fortunately for Okanogan County, her ‘office family’ was the exception. She trusted Sheriff Johnson and the deputies. They hardly ever disappointed her.
Her ingrained cynicism paralleled a savant’s ability to analyze events, link facts, analyze personality types and motivations, and--while sitting for long hours at her dispatch console performing routine communications duties--that part of her brain might be in ‘superdrive’ mode, unconsciously running data and making connections.
The SOB is in Pateros!
It was logical. Pateros is a small town, less than a thousand people at the confluence of the Methow and Columbia rivers at the southern terminus of the Methow Valley. It enjoyed a very limited, seasonal recreation economy but otherwise was completely ignored by tourists, travelers, and shoppers alike. Since the lumber industry had been gobbled up by conglomerate corporate interests, the Pateros sawmill was closed and damn near everybody but retired people, a few shopkeepers, and municipal employees had moved away. A person could rent a motel cabin on the edge of town and hide in plain sight--assuming they did nothing stupid to draw notice to themselves. She figured the fat rat-bastard lawyer was not stupid. Most rats are quite cunning and avoid drawing notice. They slink to the shadows and stay concealed.
So why would the rat-bastard be in a nowhere place like Pateros? Because, dear heart, she thought to herself, it’s got immediate access to the two places he’s been involved with: north to the valley, east to Okanogan, and south to get his ass away from pursuers. He can escape to the south. Its got a bunch of get-away routes that branch in all directions.
Amber grabbed her telephone and dialed. Her friend answered.
“Heather, be a dear and turn on your fax machine, would you?” Heather co-owned and worked at the only real estate office in Pateros. They had a new fax machine. Amber had known Heather and her husband John since they’d been High School classmates. They often went to winter basketball games together, and sometimes went into the surrounding mountains on two-family camping trips.
Amber transmitted Bertrand Adams’ mugshot to Heather.
“When you get a few minutes, would you very discreetly slip over to the ‘Bide-A-Wee Motel’ and show that picture to the owner? I think it’s still the Farnsworths, Felicia and Andrew, is that right? They’ve got that string of cabins secluded in the trees. They’ve always bragged about the privacy and quiet they offer their long-term guests. I know it’s been a big selling point of theirs. They’re always booked solid during salmon season; the out-of-towners can get roaring drunk and not bother anybody.
Ahh, good, yeh... Felicia. My memory’s still okay. Slip over there and show that picture to her? Make sure nobody sees you, especially that guy whose picture it is. See if he’s been staying there, or if she’s seen him? Right ... not a word. Caution her to say nothing, to anybody. And Heather, if you happen to see him yourself? Turn around, slip away, and call me immediately!
“No, we haven’t heard anything from Andy, not since he said they were shipping him to Japan. I just know the damned Army’s gonna send his ass to Korea. If I could get my hands on those bloodthirsty bastards in Washington ... well, never mind. Keep Andy in your prayers, Heather.
Three o’clock that same day, Heather called. Cabin Five at the far end, for the last week. He drives a 1952 Pontiac, blue and cream. Colorado plates. Write down this plate number...
Amber got right on the radio: “Boss, unless you’re tied up in a gunfight, drop whatever you’re doing and get to the office. Pronto!”
Within fifteen minutes Sheriff Johnson had braked to a hard stop in his reserved spot, slapped his Stetson on his head and jogged--not walked--to the Courthouse back door and skipped two steps at a time down the basement stairs to his offices.
He swung through the dispatch center door and slid up to the counter. Amber slapped a sheet of paper down in front of him. Justin glanced at it, did a fast double-take, and stared back at the evil grin on her face.
“Holy shee-IT, Amber? How in the bloody HELL did you DO this!”
“Trade secret, boss. If I tell you, you’ll spill the beans and then just anybody could do it.”
“Round up the guys, all but Arnie. He’ll have the local watch while we’re gone...”
“Already done, boss. They’re on their way in. And it can’t be Arnie; he’s got that new kid just hatched in the hospital, so he’s got today and tomorrow off duty. I told Todd to stick around. Alright?”
“Dammit, Amber? Why don’t I just appoint you Sheriff and I retire?”
“Can’t do that boss. It’s gotta be an election and I’m happy right where I’m at, as long as you’re the boss. So ... you gonna mount up and get your posse movin’ any time soon? You’re ‘burning daylight,’ as they say in the movies.”
Sheriff Johnson tapped lightly on the front door of Cabin Five. After a moment, the curtain moved just enough for a suspicious eye to spot who was at the door. A minute later, Deputies Steve, Tony and Pat broke out laughing at the red-faced lawyer who got stuck trying to escape through the narrow bathroom window in the cabin’s back wall.
“Sir, would you happen to be armed?” Pat grinned into the man’s gasping, straining face.
“Uh ... huhunh.” Adams grunted.
“Would that be a ‘yes’ grunt or a ‘no’ grunt, sir?” Pat asked.
“Uh ... ahhh ... NO! Dammit! I’m hurt, here!” Adams gasped.
“As long as you’re not armed, sir, which would be a danger to both your own good self, and to us, your protecting officers, sir. We’d be pleased to send someone around to push, or tug, as the situation may warrant. Your choice, sir. Which would it be? Push? Or pull?”
“Gawdammit!” Adams shrieked. “Get me the hell out of here!”
“Oh, very well, sir. A ‘push’ it most certainly is, then.”
Deputy Pat nodded to Steve. “Go give him a good shove, Steve. Me and Tony will try to soften his landing.”
Sheriff Johnson had gone into the cabin and saw Adams’ legs kicking wildly above the bathroom vanity. After a moment, he realized the lawyer was stuck and not going anywhere. He slipped around back and stood by the corner, trying and mostly failing not to laugh out loud at his deputy’s taunting conversation with Adams. He winked at Steve when he came around on his way into the cabin to give Adams a ‘good push.’
When Adams suddenly burst out of the window, leaving a long strip of torn trousers hanging from the window ledge, Deputies Pat and Steve caught the man’s shoulders from either side and held him just long enough to let his legs vault over his head, so he didn’t land head first to possibly break his neck.
Adams landed with a resounding THUMP flat on his back that knocked the wind out of him. His ruddy and angry face turned puce, then mottled purple as he gasped for breath, his eyes opening wide in terror as his first few attempts to breathe failed. Finally, small gasps led to a huge GASP and his chest heaved, sucking in huge draughts of life-saving air.
Sheriff Johnson, his hat tipped back and his hands on his hips, gazed down at Adams.
“If you had simply opened the door when I knocked...”
“F•©k you!” Adams screamed.
“Fellows, cuff him and drag him, if he won’t walk, to one of the units. Draw straws or play rock-paper-scissors, it don’t matter, to see who’s going to be the unlucky driver to haul this tub o’shit back to a holding cell.”
Unseen, where the long private motel lane joined the city street, a man started his car and drove to a telephone booth outside a burger drive-in on the other side of town.
“I’ve got the prosecuting attorney’s agreement to hold Adams almost indefinitely as a material witness to attempted manslaughter in the Kendricks case, and the federal crime of kidnapping. Either one would be sufficient, but with both? We’re all but ironclad. Problem is, I can’t get a word out of him but complaints and obscenities. Too bad the days of rubber hoses and thumbscrews are long past. Any idea how we get him to soften up and play ball with us? After all, if we turn him loose, he’s a target. He knows that, but no matter what I say, he’s being stupidly stubborn. It must be his legal training. It scrambled his common sense.”
“You’re making a faulty assumption, Justin,” Abner said at the other end of their early evening call. “You assume he possessed common sense at some point before he became a twisted shyster. Well, let me ask you this. Are you open to having the young couple ‘interview’ him? I’m pretty sure they can get through to him, where nobody else can. And before you ask, no, it won’t involve any rubber hoses or thumbscrews. Although, from what I’ve learned lately, I’ll make you another Antler’s Cafe breakfast bet: when they’re through messing with his head, he’ll be pleading to his God and Mother Theresa that they WOULD use physical persuasion. The flesh heals; the mind? Not so quick.”
Justin agreed, reluctantly, but he could see no other way. “Can you set it up for tomorrow?” he asked.
“Sure thing. I’ll call you in the morning to confirm, but you can plan to witness it and have somebody handy to record the interview. This is an ‘off the record’ question, Justin, and you don’t have to answer. Does your department, or anybody you know, have a 16mm movie camera, and a bunch of film? This will most especially be worth the expense. You’ll want to set it up behind the young couple, pointed at Adams to catch his reactions. And Justin? You absolutely DO NOT want anybody else in the interview room with them. We’ll watch from the monitoring room, out of sight. And that’s too damned close, in my judgment!”
Sheriff Johnson shuddered, shook himself to clear his head, and began to call around. His friend Otto at the camera store--he would have what they needed.
Penny Osgood had the night dispatch duty. When the red light on the top center of her dispatch panel began flashing, she gasped, then tried to calm her sudden fear. She grabbed the dispatch telephone.
“Amber! The red emergency light. It’s flashing!”
Amber swore to herself: Oh, shit! I should have guessed.
“Okay, lock yourself down, now! Full lock down. Hit all the electric lock switches, all doors. Don’t try to use the radio. If they cut the antenna coax, you’d blow the transmitter tubes. Don’t go near anything leading outside. Duck under the desk with the phone and stay put. I’m calling the boss and we’ll be there in force. Alright?”
Sure, Amber. You’re sure they can’t get in here with me?
“Not without acetylene tanks and a cutting torch and a few satchel charges. The boss made damn sure our complex was assault proof. And he agreed with me about putting the trip wires on the roof, and the emergency light on the panel. You’re perfectly safe as long as you stay put. Understand?”
Okay, Amber. Hurry, please?
Amber knew that the Sheriff kept a base radio at his house and monitored it whenever he was home. She kept a handheld radio at home. It would trigger the mountain top repeater. The duty units would hear her call.
“Calling all bears. Got your ears on? We’ve got skunks in the berry patch!”
After a moment Amber heard two distinct squelch breaks, soon followed by another two and finally another pair. They’d heard. They’d roll on it. Amber picked up her phone and called the State Patrol number. When the state dispatcher answered, Amber’s message was brief: “We’ve got intruders at the courthouse. We assume their target is a prisoner in the jail section. We request assistance.” She heard the acknowledgement and hung up. She kept her radio, ran for her car, and peeled out. She’d park a block away and slip down the Central Street hedges. There was a locked boiler room service entrance into the basement. She had a key and the lockdown override code. Penny was on the edge of hysteria; Amber would be there to help.
Sheriff Johnson rolled down the back alley, lights off, no siren or flashers. When he got to a point where he could see the back parking lot he tripped a switch to kill the interior courtesy light and slipped out of his car. He’d pulled his 12 gauge riot gun from its holder. He slipped another half dozen rounds into his jacket pocket and very softly cycled the pump action to charge a live round into the breech. He touched the safe button. He hated what was coming. If anybody was brazen enough to attack the courthouse jail, they’d be carrying weapons and would use them.
He waited. Another unit came gliding down the alley behind him, silent and ghostly. It was Pat.
“The others?” Justin whispered.
“On their way. Steve, Arnie, Russ, they were off-duty, home with their units. They heard their home monitors. They know the plan. It’ll take a minute, but they’ll be in position.”
“Very good. I’ve not heard or seen anything yet. Amber said they tripped the roof wires; that means they probably cut the antenna cables. Maybe they were looking for some way down through the roof. There isn’t any and the usual entrances are locked down. They can’t cut through those electric deadbolts. So that leaves the windows. You slip around to survey the front; I’ll take this backside. Let me go first. Cover me in case they left somebody sitting in a vehicle for a watch. We’ll trust the others to scout the side windows, following the plan. If they’re in the upper offices we’ll all go storm-trooper to take ‘em out.”
And it began just that way.
10-24! They’re in the Commission offices, Steve radioed. Half the deputies ran to the front. They raised the hidden keypad cover and keyed in the door’s release code. Pat and the Sheriff did the same around back. Both groups charged down the long hallway from each end. Long familiar with the courthouse layout, knowing the hallways and even better, knowing the architectural ‘take cover’ positions they could use during an assault, the lawmen covered the two double-door entrances into the County Commission offices and hearing room.
The intruders had chosen the worst possible entrance for their purposes. They’d broken through a side window from the alley. That particular window was part of a set that opened into enclosed Commissioner’s rooms that were now secured with one-way locks. They couldn’t open the exit doors from inside the rooms once the lockdown system was triggered. They were trapped.
It was a very old courthouse. At one time, a commission chairman had ordered a system installed that he’d admired at a Seattle department store: a pneumatic tube message system. He would not be dissuaded; he stubbornly persisted and twisted arms until he had his way. It was soon found by everyone in the courthouse offices to be impractical and inefficient. Although it had long been deactivated, it remained. There was no good reason it wouldn’t work.
“Amber. You onboard?”
Hi, boss. It’s nice of you to remember!
“Stifle, Amber. Hey, remember Paulson’s Folly, from years ago?”
Sure do. Need to send a message?
“If it still works, I’d like to send a few tear gas cylinders to the Commission section. If they fit, and if Paulson’s Folly still works, we could fumigate the rooms before those skunks start tearing things up.”
You know me, boss. I never leave good ‘nuff alone. The custodian showed it to me awhile back. I tested it again last fall, just for the hell of it. It works. Let me check those smaller cylinders. I bet they work just fine.
Oh bless your evil little heart, sweet thing. Next to Pat, you’re the best damned hire this department ever made! Sheriff Johnson cheered to himself.
One question, boss. How much tear gas do you want to send?
“How many we got?”
Six. And they fit just fine. Sure you didn’t order ‘em just for this?
“Send all six, triggered. Aren’t there several tube exits in the Commission rooms?”
Yup. Just happens to be three stations there.
“Wonderful! All deputies, move outside, now. Cover the alley-side windows. Get to cover and take firing positions. Expect our intruders to smash their way out through the windows. Be careful! If they raise a weapon, take ‘em out!”
“Amber, when I give the word, send two cylinders to each station, rapid load!”
Sheriff Johnson gave it two minutes. Then he keyed his radio: “Amber, send ‘em now.”
On their way! Beware of skunks running around in a mad panic, boss.
“I suppose you’re going to want a pay raise for this, huh?”
As long as it doesn’t involve a promotion, you’re on. I’m still very happy where I’m at. Pay attention boss. The packages should be opening ... right about now!
Justin heard a succession of loud ‘WHUMP WHUMP’ sounds, six in rapid order, from inside the rooms. Shortly afterward, shouts and then screams were followed by the sounds of windows being smashed. He ran for the back exit to join his men outside.
Shouted warnings. More shouts, and shots. Pistol shots, semi-automatic fire, rapid ‘pop-pop-pop’ and the answering, thundering, echoing ‘BOOM’ of 12-gauge shotgun fire.
Oh, Christ! Johnson swore to himself. He clutched at the edge of the stone base to peer cautiously around the corner, his pistol in hand. He saw several bodies laying among the long shadows cast by the street lights. He looked for his men; they must still be in their firing cover...
“10-89! 10-89!” somebody yelled!
“What the hell is THAT?” another voice yelled.