I didn’t answer her but turned to the stands. Judy was still trailing behind me as I scrambled back between the pickups and trailers. It was harder going now with people trying to leave. Somehow shots fired at a rodeo have a disrupting effect on a family outing. The air was flowing with dust particles lit up by hundreds of vehicle lights adding to the air of confusion. Every exit lane I tried to cross was filled with pickups pulling horse trailers. The normal buzz of people shouting and waving as they left a rodeo was muted. There were nervous groups of people talking as they loaded horses into trailers with a lot of hand pointing in the direction of the Kennedy trailer.
As I made my way into the stands there were hardly any people. Apparently most everyone had decided to head home. There was the usual contingent of the younger crowd that were not going to be denied the usual beer drinking and socializing that usually took place after the rodeo. But even these groups seemed subdued. The news of a dead body from a shooting must be getting out.
I finally stopped when I reached my previous spot at the top rail of the stands. Judy came up behind me and asked a little exasperatedly, “Well what are you doing now, Mitch? Did you want a better view of the stars?” When Judy gets aggravated, she gets sarcastic.
I turned around a little surprised she was standing there. I hadn’t given any thought to Judy or the rest of the crew in my dash to gain a vantage point. “Good. I’m glad you’re here. You can help me spot her.”
“Maybe if you told me what female you are so bound and determined to find, I might be able to help you. I mean I always want to help my boyfriend find another woman.”
I glanced at her to make sure she wasn’t totally pissed. She was wearing that great smile and had a twinkle in her eye so I knew I was okay for the moment. “I’m looking for Bunny Kennedy. I have a feeling she may have more to do with the shooting than Art does. I think Sheriff Rawlins is going to want to talk with her. So see if you can spot her.”
“Well I’m glad to know we are looking for some kind of suspect and not a love interest. I mean Bunny doesn’t seem to be your type.”
While I continued to look for Bunny, I said, “How do you know Bunny isn’t my type. I mean she is married so she is safe and she has a lot of attractive frontage.”
“If married is safe, what am I?”
Now we were getting into a tricky area. “Let’s not get into that right now. If you can’t spot Bunny, look for one of the Kennedy pickups.”
We were both silent for a while searching through the hundreds of people and pickups and dust. Finally Judy did a soft shout. “There’s a Kennedy pickup.” She pointed to a line of vehicles trying to head out the north gate. “It’s right there, about four pickups from the gate.”
I spotted the truck. It was a white crew cab Ford with dually tires on the rear and large Kennedy Rodeo Stock sign on the sides. “What is she doing turning north? The ranch is south from here. Why would anyone head north on that gravel road if you don’t live that way?” As the pickup turned on the road, I grabbed Judy’s hand and started leading her down the stands. “Come on. We need to see where she goes.”
“But we will be way behind her.”
I kept heading to my pickup and said, “The traffic will be pretty thin heading north. Let’s see what we find. If she is responsible for Sammy’s death, I want her to pay. Hell, if she gets going who knows where she might stop. You want to go for a ride in the country with me anyway, don’t you? I mean we haven’t been able to spend much time together lately. You can text Laurie and tell her to drive herself home.”
It took a short while to get the pickup through traffic and out the north gate. We were the tail end of the crowd leaving and as we headed down the gravel road the dust was thick from the traffic ahead of us. In the distance we could see pin points of lights pulling off left and right, heading for their ranches. It was hard to keep my mind on the task at hand. Judy was snuggled up next to me on the bench seat. It was one more reason I liked the old pickup. The new one had bucket seats and to sit next to me, she would have to sit on the console. This was much better. But I needed to keep my mind on the job at hand. I was not going to let Bunny Kennedy get away.
About then the old pickup coughed. That is the only way I could describe it. Then it spluttered and the lights faded. That is not a good combination while driving a gravel road in the dark. Lights were few and far between. But then the motor caught and held and the lights brightened. Judy and I looked at each other and both of us gave a shrug.
I had a good idea of most of the ranches off this main gravel road. It was hard to think of Bunny going to any one of them. “I think she is heading for Newell and taking the gravel as a short cut. Or at least headed for Highway 212. We’ll know at the next intersection. It is a T end and if the dust is to the left she is headed back to Belle Fourche and if the dust is to the right she is headed for Newell.”
We slowed for the intersection. Judy pointed to the right and said, “I think the dust in the air is this way. And I see a set of lights in the distance.” I made the corner and my headlights definitely picked out a swirl of dust in the air. “Now, we can see if it’s Bunny leaving the dust trail.”
The land rolled up and down and around the rolling hills. Lights in the distance would appear and disappear as you moved from one point to another. There is probably less than one ranch house per square mile. A few more miles of gravel and we popped out on Highway 212. I said, “No more dust to follow. Can you spot headlights in either direction?”
“Mitch, I see some lights headed away toward the left. I think you should head that way and check out Newell. Bunny knows the area and she wouldn’t have come this way if she was going to Belle Fourche or the ranch.”
You may think it was strange picking out headlights in the distance. In heavier population areas there are cars going every direction. But Butte County only has ten thousand people spread out over twenty-two hundred square miles. And over half of those ten thousand people live in Belle Fourche which was the other direction. Where we were headed, there was about one person per square mile, if that. Cars were few and far between heading north into grass country.
I pushed the accelerator down and headed for Newell. It was time to catch up to Bunny if possible. Either she stopped somewhere in Newell or she was headed into some very empty country. Newell is a town of about six hundred people. We could search every street in town in ten minutes or less. The town lights came into view as we topped a hill about a mile away.
The old pickup had pushed close to one hundred miles per hour on the downhill runs, which is about twenty miles per hour faster than it had gone for the past ten years. I could tell the speed was bothering Judy, probably because she knew what a wreck the outfit was. Judy finally said, “If you will slow down a bit, I’ll tell you some good news.” I backed off about ten miles an hour and gave her a head nod to give with the info. “Laurie may have heard that Frank was having a quasi-date with that bombshell from the funeral playing Lady Godiva. Heavens knows where she might have heard that.” Judy gave me a fox in the hen house look and continued. “Well, Laurie didn’t like the shoe on the other foot so to speak. From what I could gather she was going to give Frank a second chance as soon as she got done with the roping tonight.”
“Well, that sounds great. I sure wish they could get back together. But she picked a bad night. Frank smells like a skunk rolled in chicken shit.”
Judy smiled and said, “Love doesn’t notice things like that.”
By the edge of town, I had slowed up to about fifty which was double the speed limit. “Son of a bitch! Where do you think she went?”
Judy tried to calm me down with, “Take it easy, Mitch. We’ll just go up and down every street. If she is in town we’ll spot that Kennedy ranch pickup easy enough.”
She was right of course. I was just wound up. I started working on the east side of town first going up one street and then cutting over to the next and back and forth. There were plenty of pickups with two white Ford crew cabs, but none of them had the Kennedy Ranch logo. A pickup like that is bound to stick out because of the size if nothing else.
We were back to Main Street in no time at all. There were a lot of pickups at the bars on Main. We made sure to circle the bars front, back, side and alleyways. No luck. We did get to see several cowboys lined up against a wall in the alley relieving themselves.
Some of the pickups still had the stock trailers hitched up with their horses inside. Judy was aggravated by this. “They should get those horses home and give them a good rub down. No wonder there are so many rodeo horses that are injured.”
I had to smile as I said, “If they took the horses home and they live any distance, they wouldn’t get to come back for a beer. You know that. How many cowboys do you know that are willing to miss their Saturday night session of howling at the moon? Not many. I didn’t at their age.”
“You haven’t missed many lately either.”
I was a little hurt and said, “I’ve missed a few.” Judy gave the raised eye brow look. “Well I have. Just last weekend I stayed home.”
“I thought last weekend we were in Custer at the Buffalo Roundup. I seem to remember you having more than one beer there.”
“Okay, okay. Let’s pay attention to the task at hand. I want to catch that damn Bunny and get to the bottom of this situation. We’ve hit this side of town, now let’s hit the other side.”
Judy asked, “Do you think she could have pulled the pickup into a garage? We should be checking for places with a garage big enough to park that rig.”
We started our criss cross of the west side of town. I was driving slower on this route and started adding in the alleys. Judy was right, there were only so many garages that could hold a pickup of that size.
The slow pace had me getting wound up again. I wanted to race and spin tires and get rid of some of my anger. The more I thought of Bunny being the lead on the drug running, the angrier I became. It started to make sense in my head. But then again it was probably both Bunny and Art. They were both responsible for Sammy and Judy.
We made it all the way through town without any luck. At the end I was creeping, not wanting to finish and have to admit I was wrong about Bunny stopping in Newell. “She must have kept going on the highway. We’ve covered the whole town and no sight of that Kennedy pickup.” I slammed the dash with my fist in aggravation. “Son of a bitch!” I slammed the dash again.
Judy said, “That really isn’t helping you know.” She was right, but that ticked me a little bit more. “So we only saw about five or six garages large enough for that pickup. Let’s go take a look at those a little closer. I think she is here too.” I gave her a pissy look. She could tell I was not in a good mood. “Well at least that is something to do. Who knows, we may get lucky.”
I sat there trying to calm down. After a minute of silence and deep breaths, I said, “Okay. Let’s do that. But what are we going to do? Just walk in the garages and look around?”
Judy said, “You have a flashlight don’t you? Can’t you get out of the pickup, find a window and shine the light inside. We don’t have to play storm trooper and bust down doors.”
One again she had a point. There were times when I hated that she was always right. But I need to get used to it, this might be a long term habit.
I stopped the pickup next to a large pole barn behind a house on the edge of town. I felt plenty foolish, sneaking up to a window for a peek inside. I do not make a habit of peeking inside other people’s buildings. I could just see the headlines now, ‘Peeping Tom identified as local banker.’ I may get in dust ups at the bar, but that was spur of the moment and usually lead by Frank. This was deliberate, pre-meditated trouble. But if Bunny was here, I was going to find her.
The first house with a sizable garage looked familiar, but a lot of the houses looked familiar in the dim street light. I could see lights on in the house but nothing was showing in the garage. I tip toed to a side garage window and had to briefly shine my flashlight inside. No white pickup, but the car inside was one I knew. It belonged to a bank customer. Best not to be caught peeking in his windows. How easily we get familiar with doing something illegal. By the third house, I was strolling up to the windows and taking my time looking in. Whether tense or at ease, there were still no white pickups.
At the fourth garage, I almost sauntered to the garage but had to hop a short fence to get to a window. I was done with my peek inside without results when a flash of fur and shrill yap let me know I had been discovered. It was a nasty little Pekinese. I have been bitten by more small dogs then big dogs. I beat a hasty retreat to the fence but not fast enough.
As I swung my right leg up to vault over, the dog caught my left pant leg and hung there as I lifted that leg. The added weight threw me off balance. The dog let go but not before he was on the wrong side of the fence. I considered jumping back over the fence to get out of range of the dog but decided against that. I was glad I was wearing my cowboy boots, the heavy leather is a nice protection around the ankle. With the dog still yapping for all it was worth I beat a retreat to my pickup which Judy already had rolling. What a girl!
I managed to shake the dog lose from my pant leg and jump on the rear bumper of the pickup. I felt bad waving goodbye to the little dog now out of his yard until I felt a breeze on my rear end. Apparently I had torn the seat of my pants on the chain link fence. A block later, Judy stopped and let me get in the cab. She was trying to smother her laughter, but not succeeding. “I’m sorry, Mitch, but that was funny.” She laughed some more and then, “Yip, yip, yip.” More laughter. “I haven’t seen you move that fast since you played football.”
“Just drive will you. Or better yet, I’ll drive and you can check out the next garage.”
Judy shook her head and said, “No, you’re doing just fine. I’ll stay behind the wheel.”
We made it all the way through town checking garages. When we had checked the last one we thought was big enough to hide a large pickup, I said, “That does it. The last one is clean. I guess Bunny kept on driving. She is probably halfway to the Canadian line by now. It is just as well. I was getting a little nervous. You don’t do much in a small town without being noticed by someone. Of course, we’re trying to help police not steal something. Sheriff Rawlins would understand but I don’t know about Sheriff Timmy. He is so straight laced, he might haul us in anyway.”
Judy smiled and said, “What do you mean us. You’re the one peeking in windows.”
“Thanks a lot. I suppose if I got picked up by the police, you would melt into the shadows.”
“You’ve got that right. But I might break you out of jail later on.” Judy kept driving slowly around town. Neither one of us wanted to admit we were beaten. She has to be here somewhere. So where else could you put a rig that size?”
After another complete circuit of town, we decided Bunny must have kept driving north. “Why don’t you circle around to the police station? Maybe someone there can get in touch with Sheriff Rawlins and let him know she is headed north. He has a tendency to ignore my phone calls lately. I know we are in Butte County and out of Rawlins’ jurisdiction, but I’m sure there all on the same radio system.”
Judy parked the pickup at the back of the police station since we were on that side. I hopped out and headed up the side walk to go to the front door. The back of the police station has a garage housing the ambulance and volunteer fire department. It was a small town and all the police and emergency response was located in the same building and other than the police it was all volunteers.
The lights were on in the garage and I glanced in to see if the ambulance from Newell was out on the run to the shooting at the rodeo. The ambulance was gone but there was a vehicle parked in its space --- a white crew cab dually Ford pickup with Kennedy Rodeo Stock signs.
“Son of a bitch! Double son of a bitch!!” What the hell is Bunny’s pickup doing at the police station? Did the police already pull her in? Why would they have taken the pickup inside? Wouldn’t they have just left it where ever they pulled her over?
My brain was pedaling fast but not coming up with any answers. I could stand there and puzzle over the situation or go inside and find some answers. I waved to Judy in the pickup and made repeated large pointing motions to the window for the garage. The front door of the police station was open and the lights were on, so I went in the door. There was no one in sight.
I stopped, expecting someone to show up. Maybe they were in the bathroom. I waited about a minute and still no one showed up. Another minute of looking at the wanted posters and still no one showed up. Finally I decided to explore the rest of the building. Secretly I was hoping to look in the cells and gloat over Bunny behind bars. If Brenda was right and Bunny brought Broken Glass to the ranch, then Bunny was probably the one responsible for Sammy’s death and Judy’s injury. It would give me a lot of satisfaction to see her locked up. But she wasn’t.