LATE NIGHT TOUR
What was my plan? I had tried waiting things out. I had tried going to Sherriff Rawlins over the phone. The more I sat around, the angrier I got. Somebody had killed Sammy Miller and nothing was being done about it. I knew it was connected to Art Kennedy, even if he hadn’t done it himself. Pinky was still on the lose ready to do in someone else. “I’ll go out to Art’s and do some investigating on my own.” Dan shook his head but I figured a fly was bothering him. I should have paid attention.
I jumped in the old pickup. If I had to take a back road or two, I didn’t want the new rig getting dented or dirty. As I was heading out the driveway, I skidded to a halt. I opened the center console and checked. The forty Smith and Wesson was right where I normally keep it. Imagine that, I had never switched it over to the new pickup. What if I had gone out to Art’s and needed a gun and been sitting there looking pretty in the new pickup but without any fire power?
I was somewhat familiar with the layout at Kennedys. The ranch headquarters were about a fourth of a mile off the road below a protective tree covered hill. The house was tucked into the hillside with a walk out basement and tuck under garage. The deck of the house allowed a view down on the extensive corrals. With a rodeo livestock contract business, Kennedy had a lot more corrals than the average ranch.
On the way out I chewed on my best approach. I wanted to see what was going on but not be seen doing it. That meant staying off the main road coming from town. So I jogged over a mile and came at the headquarters from the east and eased the pickup into a field approach until the pickup was hidden in the trees covering the hill behind the house. The spot was a ways down from the house so no one would hear my exhaust. The old pickup’s muffler was pretty shot and that meant some extra distance. Not liking to walk, I was re-thinking not using the new pickup.
I grabbed the Surefire tactical flashlight from the door pocket. The flashlight was a Christmas gift from TT. It had four hundred lumens on max but was hardly bigger than a large pen. It ran on 2AA batteries and had a high and low beam plus a strobe flasher. For night work the best feature was a red lens cover that muted the light and was hard to see at a distance. Now if I could hang on to the thing. I had a terrible habit of laying flashlights down and forgetting them. That was why TT new I could use a new one almost every Christmas.
With the low beam on, I headed into the woods to try my hand at sneaking up on the house. My attempts at stealth were at best a failing grade. Branches snapped under foot. Twigs broke off sounding loudly in the still night air. Fall in western South Dakota was a dry season and all the shrubbery was tinder dry. My best effort was to stay under the pine trees where possible and step on the cushion of pine needles. Even then my imagination told me every sound was going to wake the dead.
Burglars must get used to sneaking around where they aren’t supposed to go. Bankers are not well versed in stealth. The last time I tried to travel quietly through the woods was during hunting season a year ago. But I did that in the day time with sunlight. I had envisioned ghosting through the woods and gliding up completely undetected to an open window where I could hear evidence of the horrible goings on. Just sliding past the corral and barn seemed to take forever.
At the rate I was going, I would be lucky to get within a football field of the house without someone taking a shot at me. The thought of someone shooting at me made me pat my waist band to check on my gun. Luckily I had remembered to bring it along from the pickup. Just as I relaxed at the touch of the pistol, I panicked again. Before going any further I stopped and checked to make sure it was loaded. And then I jacked a round into the chamber and put the safety on. As a rule I never carried a concealed weapon and I had a nervous second as I shoved it into the front of my waistband with it pointing at my private parts. I took it out and double checked to make sure the safety had remained on. It had. I slowly slipped it back in making sure not to jostle the safety.
With the gun checked out, I felt a little braver and continued my sneak through the woods. The further I went and the closer I came to the ranch house, the more nervous I became. I started thinking about Sammy. They hadn’t stopped at murder. This was for real, not some hijinks with Frank. The reality of what I was doing settled in. This group played for keeps. I was putting myself in serious jeopardy by taking this night time stroll. Normally I did things like this with Frank and John. Doing it by myself was a whole new adventure. But there was no sense endangering anyone else. I was determined to put an end to the Kennedy menace and all I needed was some proof that I could take to Rawlins. But first I needed to get closer.
Cold sweat breaking out on my forehead, I finally pushed through the edge of the trees behind the house. Art sure had upgraded the place. I remembered a small, one-level old ranch house. The place in front of me was a two story log home bigger than the barn. There was a large deck on the back side close to me. Lights were on all over the house with the main living area lit up like a bonfire. That much light would make it difficult if not impossible to get close. There were people moving around inside the house and one of them looked familiar in an unexpected way.
I shifted over until I was directly behind the main living area. I found a place deep in the shadows of the pine trees and settled down with my back against a tree trunk. I slipped my small binoculars out of a pocket. They were plenty powerful enough to bring the people in the house into focus.
The whole back wall of the home was glass two stories tall. The living room pointed out of the house like the prow of a ship. The people were gathered around a long rectangular dining table. Art was at the head of the table. I could make out Bunny and Brenda. There were a few others I thought looked familiar but I couldn’t put a name to. But the familiar one sitting next to Brenda was my son, TT.
At this distance there was no chance of hearing the conversation. But a family gathering wasn’t going to be a frank discussion on drug running. While I was watching and swatting the occasional mosquito, a large birthday cake was brought to the table. Bunny leaned forward and lit the candles. Brenda did the obligatory birthday wish and blew out the candles. It was the normal every day American family birthday party.
Sitting in the dark outside felt strange, watching this slice of family life. My focus kept swinging back to TT. He was obviously enjoying himself. I remembered times when he was small and Emily and I had still been a family. There were birthday parties for him with my parents and some of his little friends. But that was a long time ago. Seeing the large muscular man sitting at the table did not jibe with my memories of the little boy. The wave of melancholy washed over me dragging my emotions down. What had happened to that pleasant little family? Sitting at the table then, it was impossible to envision the current situation – a broken family, divorce, personal separation. I wondered what was running through Tt’s mind.
In a few minutes time TT hugged Brenda several times and kissed her besides. I had never seen him lavish this much public attention on any of his previous girlfriends. My emotions were mixed. I wanted to be a part of TT’s life and be involved in his serious relationship. But how could this go on? He was dating the daughter of a murderer and drug runner. After I exposed Art and sent him to prison, how was that going to go over with his new family relations?
The same person who had brought in the cake now brought in the saddle. It was the same saddle Curly had worked on just last night. Slung over it was the martingale, reins and bridle I had worked on. Son of a bitch! All those good vibes I had poured out making those leather goods and now they were being desecrated by the Kennedy clan. Double son of a bitch!
I sat under the trees steaming. My anger came from theft of my son, theft of my talent, theft of my friend Sammy, theft of my sense of safety, theft of Judy’s sense of security. With all those stolen goods the Kennedys added to the insult by using drug money to purchase my labor for a gift for Brenda. My quick temper was like nitro glycerin rocking on top of a vibrating sander just waiting for that one tiny little bit more motion before it exploded. I felt like busting through the back door and letting that whole group know about Art and his drug ring. But maybe they already knew.
There was no sense trying to get any closer to the party and sitting here was bringing out nothing but negative emotions. It was time to get out of there. I was spoiling for a fight and didn’t care if I made noise walking back to the pickup. Let them come out to check on me. I would welcome a chance to bust some head.
As I crashed through the brush my mind was back on the scene in the house. I was no longer on a stealth mission. I was trudging back to the truck fighting between depression and anger. Branches were snapping under foot. If they didn’t snap under foot, I found tree branches I could grab with my hands and break off the trees.
This was a dumb idea coming out here trying to find some evidence. Sneaking around in the night was not something I was good at. Sneaking up on houses and playing detective was just plain stupid. I kicked a rotten log and watched the pieces of wood shatter and fly in the air.
That felt so good that I lined up another kick and let it fly. Unfortunately this part of the log was not rotted – it was solid lumber. I was wearing tennis shoes the better to sneak around – They didn’t provide any protection for my feet. Pain shot up my leg from my abused toes. A stream of swear words erupted from mouth spitting out into the crisp autumn night.
With that out of my system, I sat on the log to hold my aching foot and inspect the damage. While massaging my big toe, some of my anger seeped away. That was not unusual for me. I had a quick temper but it went away about as quickly. With my blood pressure receding my brain started to kick in. It was a beautiful night in contrast to the turmoil in my emotions. The stars were out, there was no wind and the air was crisp as crackers.
As I started to absorb the quiet, noise floated up to me from the livestock yards below. There were soft grunts from a bull as corral lumber groaned under a bull rubbing an itch. A nicker reached out from the stables, some stud talking to a mare a few stalls down. Next the sound of gravel scrunching mixed with a soft thump and what sounded like air rushing through a restricted opening. My eyes swiveled trying to catch movement to go with the noise.
Nothing stood out with the first visual sweep of the yard, but I had a sense that it came from the area around the closest shed. It was not a noise I associated with livestock. Having grown up on a ranch, I was very familiar with the usual night noises from a livestock corral. This was not one of them.