A peaceful valley in the mountains of Colorado becomes a battleground pitting the DEA against a rural sheriff’s department. Beleaguered Sheriff Bear Ellison finds himself outnumbered, over-matched, and increasingly isolated as he is forced to decide between risking his life protecting a local hero, or reneging on his oath and handing him over to the Department of Justice.
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Until recent times, Calumet County had never been known as a place of killing and violence. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains in the shadow of the Continental Divide, the once tranquil county is inhabited by eighteen thousand year-round residents: a smorgasbord of ranch hands, pensioners, federal prison employees, and graying hippies. The streets and avenues of the county seat – Calumet City, population two thousand – are lined with Victorian-era homes, picket fences, jagged cottonwood trees, and old ponderosa pines. The village has one stoplight at the intersection of State Road 24 and Main Street. Deer graze on neighborhood lawns by day and black bears rummage through garbage cans by night. The residents of the county engage in a variety of recreational pursuits. Many enjoy the thrills of whitewater rafting or the freedom of bicycling. Others prefer the anticipation of a striking trout, the pursuit of big game, or the solitude of camping within the vast mountain forests and by the countless placid ponds and crystal clear streams, all of which are within a few minutes’ drive.
As with any population, there exists some fraction who are un-enamored by those conventional leisure activities and choose instead to indulge in mind-altering chemicals. Because of the illegality of many of these substances, these folks must make forays into the black markets, where the heightened risk of incarceration lures entrepreneurs of dubious morality and muted inhibition towards violence. The peaceful county was changing.
In all the decades that had passed since the town’s founding in the 1870s – after the first ranchers, silver miners, cattle rustlers, claim jumpers and lynch mobs chased the Ute Indians away and built their homesteads, churches, saloons, opium dens and whorehouses – there had been a grand total of only fifteen homicides. But the most recent four years had seen an alarming uptick in murderous violence in the county, rendering all other decades insignificant by statistical comparison.
The first of these recent killings was perpetrated by a Mr. Leone Vigil, an unemployed ex-felon. He had decided that he no longer wanted to deal with his insurmountable debts and his nagging and adulterous common-law wife. He drank himself into semi-consciousness, snorted $1,500 worth of cocaine, and then blew her brains out with a twelve gauge shotgun before turning the weapon on himself. Then Danny Pocket, a blond-haired high school narc, met his demise. One day, he had the misfortune of running into some of the very kids whom he had narced on. They proceeded to pound on him mercilessly, but when they discovered that the frail boy had ceased breathing, the pimply-faced criminal masterminds disposed of the evidence by dumping his body into the six-foot-deep City Park duck pond. It took less than forty-eight hours before the assailants turned on one another and the corpse was discovered. The village was devastated by the killing of a teenager, and schools were closed for three days. The townspeople tried their best to embrace the Pocket family and nurture them through their horrible ordeal, but they would not be comforted. Driving past the pond every day was too much for them to bear, and they soon moved away to Minnesota. Then there was Punchy Bauer, a burly speed dealer who got the worst of it in a bar fight. Typically a contest between rotund, hairy, middle-aged drunks throwing wild haymakers and spilling their change on the floor, this particular incident quickly escalated into a full-on knife fight. It was, up until then, the worst thing ever seen at the historic Wagon Wheel Saloon – 19th century gunfighter myths included. Punchy bled out on a pool table in the back, clutching at his lacerated diaphragm while a Mexican cook pressed his hands against the wound and the green felt of the table turned maroon. Soon after that, a Mr. Michael Roosevelt met his maker, dying by gunshot in what originally appeared to be a tragic hunting accident. Sheriff’s Deputy Ken Kennesaw, however, extracted a confession from the murderer, Michael’s stepbrother. He may not have loved his brother, but he sure did love his brother’s wife. Their plan was to kill Michael, collect his life insurance, then blow it on ecstasy while becoming blackjack dealers in Las Vegas. And then James White – trust fund baby, dedicated snowboarder, and occasional chemistry major from Boulder – was found strangled and sans his wallet in the River Park parking lot, the victim of a meth deal gone wrong.
Not six months after White’s murder, a twenty-four-year-old fellow by the name of Joe Amos Rolfe decided that he had had enough of this world and, while making his journey into the next, he was going to take a few “motherfuckers” along with him. Rolfe had acquired two 9mm pistols: the first legally, from a sporting goods store called Ralph’s, and the second one week later, from a tattooist at a parlor called Climax Tattoo and Piercing in the nearby town of Leadville.
Rolfe’sRolfe’s final day began at 10 a.m., when he was awakened by an itching fit. Agitated by this and having exhausted his supply of speed, he got into his cream-colored Chrysler K-car and drove to the apartment of a female acquaintance named Winona Larroquette. Rolfe dreaded the very sight of her. He thought her to be hideously unattractive, untrustworthy, and as dumb as bread, but he knew she was infatuated and perhaps even obsessed with him…and that she always had a supply of hillbilly crack. The two of them partook in her methamphetamine and watched YouTube videos of the metal group Sepultura for an hour.
“What’s wrong?” Winona asked Rolfe when he rebuffed her attempt to unzip his jeans.
“What is this shit you got? I can’t get high.”
“It’s the same as last time, Joey.”
“I will bitch slap you if you call me Joey again.”
“Jesus, Joe. What is your deal?”
“It’s probably the effin’ meds I’m on.”
Rolfe shoved her off and stormed out. Agitated and still itching badly, he drove himself to the Calumet City Alco store, located on the north edge of town just before the KOA campground. He parked his K-car in the closest handicapped parking space, got out, and made his way towards the front doors of the store. There, he was confronted by some old motherfucker in a wheelchair.
“Excuse me, but you can’t park there,” said the seated man. He wore a navy windbreaker with gold letters identifying himself as a veteran of World War II.
“Says who?” Rolfe replied, as he withdrew one of the pistols from his waistband.
Confined to his wheelchair, the old veteran was unable to flee. Rolfe fired once, shooting him in the chest, and continued on toward the doorway as the dying man collapsed onto the crosswalk.
While Joe Amos Rolfe made his way into the store to continue his murderous rampage, a Mr. Montgomery Turcot, himself a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, was trying on a pair of Wrangler jeans in a dressing room. He heard the report of Rolfe’s initial shot, but did not believe it to be gunfire. There weren’t any screams or commotion immediately after the shot fired at the entrance, so Turcot continued fitting his pants. But at the very moment he pushed through the saloon doors of the dressing room, three more shots rang out. This time, he was certain of what it was.
Turcot surveyed the front of the store where the gunshots had originated. From his vantage point, he could just see the cashier’s raised hands. There was another pop, and the hands dropped out of sight. Ducking against the steel merchandise shelving, he watched as the shooter, dressed in a navy blue hoodie and saggy jeans and carrying a 9mm pistol in each hand, crossed an aisle towards the front end of the store, apparently moving towards the pharmacy. Turcot reached into his old pants for his sidearm, a Kel-Tec P-32, and clipped the holster into his new jeans. He drew it, cocked it, and cautiously made his way toward the undergarment aisle that stood between him and the pharmacy. More shouts sounded from up ahead, and were promptly answered by three more gunshots. Silence returned to the store.
Turcot leaned against the shelves of boxer briefs and athletic socks, trying to breathe quietly, concerned that his small caliber pistol would not be capable of dropping the shooter before he could return fire. He checked right and left, estimating that the gunfire was either two or three aisles over. Assuming that the man was still heading toward the pharmacy, Turcot believed that he could move up from behind and take him out. At the same time, he also noticed the front door of the Alco in the opposite direction. He could make a run for it. In seven seconds, he could be outside the store and out of danger.
Though the possibility of escape was clearly there, Monte Turcot simply couldn’t bring himself to flee. Creeping up to the edge of the aisle, he peeked around the corner and discovered a woman hunkered down against the racks with her hands over her head. She looked up at him, paralyzed by fear, as if she wasn’t sure if he was the shooter or not. He pressed his finger to his lips, motioning for her to remain still, and quietly snuck across the aisle to look around the next row of shelves. No one was there, but he could hear more shouting and pleading. With his back to the shelving, Turcot contemplated his situation for a moment. He checked left and right again. Nothing. He glanced around the next aisle, finding it empty as well.
Then came three more shots.
The pops were crisp and loud, most likely coming from the next aisle over. Turcot drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly to steady himself, then poked his head around the shelves stocked with toothpaste, floss, and other hygiene products. There stood Joe Amos Rolfe in his blue hoodie and saggy jeans, his back turned, a pistol in each hand, his wrists cocked and raised up over his head like some Hollywood gangbanger. It was clear that he was looking for another target.
Turcot took aim from behind. The thought of yelling “freeze” or “drop it” entered his mind for an instant, but he fired instead, putting three rounds straight into the gunman’s back from eighteen feet away. Rolfe instantly crumpled onto the floor, dropping both pistols and letting out a long, wheezing moan. With his P-32 still pointed at the fallen man’s body, Turcot walked up to him and kicked both guns out of reach. Standing over his victim, Turcot reached down, grabbed Rolfe and flipped him over, then placed one knee on his chest and took a good long look at the shooter. Rolfe’s face was pale, sweaty, wide-eyed, and his mouth hung open, gasping for air. His eyes were those of a frightened boy. Paralyzed and helpless, he stared up at Turcot as if pleading for mercy.
Someone screamed, then screamed again and again, filling the store with shrill, hair-raising cries. Another person ran towards the front of the store, shouting “Call 911!” at the top of their lungs. Turcot could hear another voice coming from the front registers, murmuring “No, baby. No, baby. No,” in a panicked, motherly tone. More footsteps rushed up behind him, but Turcot didn’t take his eyes off the shooter. Rolfe didn’t move, except for his quivering.
“You got him!” shouted a male voice from directly behind.
“Why? Why?” the woman sobbed.
“Hold him down there,” the man ordered. “The police will be here any minute. I’m going to help that lady at the counter.”
“Wait!” Turcot spoke up before the newcomer could leave.
“Go out front. Tell the cops not to shoot me.”
“Yeah. You got it.” The footsteps moved off toward the front of the store, leaving Turcot alone with Rolfe again. The motherly voice continued sobbing, repeating its desperate mantra of “No. No. No,” over and over. Moving carefully, Turcot slid his left hand beneath the gunman’s neck and lifted his limp head off the floor. Rolfe grimaced as small trickles of blood ran through his teeth and down his chin.
“Do you hear that?”
“I asked you a question,” Turcot said, gripping Rolfe’s pencil-thin throat as the woman’s cries sounded through the store. “Do you hear that?”
The wounded gunman nodded faintly. He was fading away, barely holding on to consciousness.
Rolfe’s eyelids drooped.
“Wake up!” Turcot ordered, shaking him.
“Why? Why? Why?” cried the motherly voice.
Rolfe’s eyes widened.
“Those are the last sounds you will ever hear.”
Monte Turcot gently lowered Rolfe’s head onto the linoleum floor, pressed the barrel of his pistol into the man’s forehead, and pulled the trigger.