A REQUEST FOR ASSISTANCE
Stopping at the title office around noon didn’t get me a lunch date. Judy and Laurie now ran the business together. Judy told me, “I’d like to go to lunch with you, Mitch. But Laurie is a wreck and I told her I would go to lunch with her. She really needs me to be with her now. You understand don’t you, Mitch?” With that she gave me a quick kiss on the cheek and went back to work. I never realized a break up of my friends marriage would affect my time with Judy.
Without anyone to join me for lunch I limped over to the Main Street Café. Aptly named since it had been located on Main Street for about the last hundred years. Which is about the age of most of the staff. Sheriff Rawlins was in his usual spot in the corner for lunch. As I came in the door he motioned me over. I hoped he was not going to grill me some more about Custer.
After I got my order in with Sweet Mary, the orneriest waitress still moving over eighty, Rawlins asked me, “Do you remember anything else about Friday night in Custer? Anything?”
I hadn’t even had my meal yet and Rawlins was already questioning me. “No, Sheriff, I really haven’t come up with anything I didn’t tell you already.”
Rawlins let it lay while he tucked away the noon special. Rawlins always had the café special whether he was there for breakfast, lunch or supper. How he stayed in such good shape eating all his meals at the restaurant was beyond me. He finished his plate about the same time my meal arrived.
Rawlins let me have a few bites before he asked, “Do you have any idea what the knifing in Custer might have been about.” I shook my head. “The Custer County Sheriff thought the murder was a drug deal gone bad. Normally cowboys and drug running aren’t connected. But we have reason to believe there is a drug running ring connected with area and regional cowboy events.” He let that sink in for a little and continued. “You get to quite a few of the area ropings and rodeos. Have you seen anything that might lead you to think there are some drug deals going on?”
I was a little flabbergasted. Oh I know that drugs have moved into rural America and that cowboys are not immune. It was more the insinuation that I might know something about drug trafficking. “That’s not really my scene, Sheriff. Maybe you should ask somebody else.”
Rawlins said, “If I thought you did drugs I wouldn’t be asking you. Now, have you seen anything that might make you think some drug transactions are going down? Are there little groups of two or three off in the corner of the parking lots visiting for no obvious reason in the dark areas?” He was prompting me to remember suspicious behavior. I shook my head. “Is there anyone that shows up for events on a regular basis but never competes in events themselves?”
I smiled, “That happens all the time. There are the girlfriends and boyfriends and just friends. Also depending on the event, the parents hang around or bring their kids.”
Rawlins did his soft snarl and said, “I know about all of those. What I am talking about is anyone out of place. Someone with no other connection but shows up at most of the events.”
A sneaking hunch started to come over me. “Do you mean someone like Pinky?” Rawlins relaxed his snarl. “I have never really paid any attention to him. Until this weekend I never put him together with Art Kennedy. What is the story on Pinky anyway? Art said he had been in the big house.”
Rawlins rattled off, “A juvie arrest record a mile long. Two short stays for auto theft and a burglary. Then he moved up to aggravated assault that was pleaded down from attempted murder. The last stay was for a drug related incident where Pinky’s knife ran a cut about a mile long on some unfortunate in a disagreement. The only reason Pinky is out now is that Art Kennedy had an in with the governor who released him into Art’s custody. If it wasn’t for Art, Pinky would be spending a number of years as a guest of the state. My understanding is that Pinky and Art go way back.”
Than another thought hit me. “You’re not thinking Art has anything to do with this?”
Rawlins tried to keep a poker face. “Do you know anyone else who comes and goes to so many rodeo events all over the western states? Law enforcement doesn’t pay attention to someone with a horse trailer and a supposedly legitimate reason to be on the road.”
That gave me something to think about. Rawlins was serious. I could tell by his straight face. This was no joke. “You have anything substantial to make you suspect a rodeo stock contractor?”
“Last weekend’s knifing in Custer wasn’t the first time there has been an incident at the same time as a rodeo event.” He saw me wanting to cut in and held up his hand and said, “I know. There is always a fracas at a rodeo. What with all those young bloods drinking there is going to be some brush ups. Last year’s rodeo in Sheridan, Wyoming another dead body turned up with similar circumstances.” He raised his eyebrows for emphasis. “The fall rodeo for St. Onge is in two weeks. I don’t intend to have a third body turn up in my county.” St. Onge is a small town less than ten miles from Spearfish as the crow flies. Small or not, it was in Rawlins’ county.
Rawlins let that thought soak in for a little before he went on. “Now there is a roping here in town on Wednesday night. I would appreciate it if you would make sure to attend and keep your eyes open for me.”
I protested, “I’m not going to be a snitch. That’s not my cup of tea.”
Rawlins ran his hard eyes over me and apparently made his mind up on something. “I wasn’t going to tell you this but it will make a difference on getting your help. The name for the victim in Custer hasn’t been released to the public yet. But it is someone I believe you know Sammy Miller.” With that Rawlins got up from the table. “Talk to you Thursday.”