“Good morning, Sheriff,” Stern announced as he propped himself up on the sofa. Ellison stood by the window, peering out through the tattered mini blinds. He was wearing the same uniform from the day before, and it didn’t appear that he had slept. “What are you looking at?”
“There’s a big crowd gathered out there. Take a look.” Ellison stepped away to refill his coffee cup while Stern staggered over to the window. “You see all those news vans?”
“Yeah. Looks like five of them.”
“Don’t forget that CNN hybrid by the mailbox over there.”
“I’d better hold a press conference then, before they get bored and leave.” Stern felt the side of his neck. “Damn. You wouldn’t happen to have a razor, would you?’
“Check my office bathroom, in the medicine cabinet.” Ellison switched on his radio to Kennesaw’s frequency as Stern made his way to the head. “You there, Ken?”
“I’m on my way, Boss. Five minutes out.”
“Do me a favor. Park in the garage, then come straight up to my office. I’ve got an idea to run by you.”
Ellison sat down in his swivel chair, his eyes bloodshot and glassy from the pots of coffee he had consumed throughout the night. He peeked out into the reception area and saw Turcot asleep on the davenport. Grabbing the remote, he clicked on the TV, and a glossy Denver morning show filled the screen. VERDICT IN CALUMET DEA AGENT KILLING crawled along the television, below an orange-complexioned hostess with dyed hair and enormous, gleaming, bluish-white teeth, interviewing a man dressed like a chef. MONTE TURCOT FOUND NOT GUILTY IN DEATH OF FEDERAL AGENT.
The sheriff sipped his coffee. A thin, plucked and coiffed male reporter appeared on screen next. One glance at him and Ellison deduced that he had never been so much as five miles from a Starbucks during the entirety of his lifetime. Then he recognized the CCSD police station in the background of the shot. The reporter was standing right outside.
“…to say the verdict came as a surprise would be an understatement, even in a small mountain town like Calumet City, known primarily for its ranching, white water rafting, and slower pace…”
“In other words, ‘those hicks blew it’,” mumbled Ellison as he sipped from his cup. The shot ended, and the feed suddenly cut to Special Agent Acevedo.
“Kevin Sniggs was an exemplary agent,” Acevedo said. “He dedicated his life to fighting the War on Drugs. He loved his job – his service to his country. It’s just unbelievable that any jury could have ruled this way – to let a murderer go like that. I still can’t believe it.”
The footage cut to a courtroom scene.
“Bedlam broke out after the bailiff read the verdict,” the reporter continued. “A court clerk suffered a broken nose in the melee. A sixty-year-old woman was taken to the Canon City medical center for treatment and later released. Unable to subdue the rioters, Sheriff Bear Ellison, shown here, escorted the acquitted suspect and his attorney into a safe room…”
“The court’s not even in my county,” Ellison scoffed to no one in particular.
“As of this moment, it is believed that Turcot is holed up here, in this building behind me, the Calumet County Sheriff’s Department, protected by the sheriff and his officers…”
“They’re not officers,” growled the sheriff. “They’re deputies.” He switched the television over to CNN.
“…Connor is on scene. Connor, what’s going on there?”
Ellison could hear a helicopter on the television and overhead simultaneously. The seven-second delay made it sound like a whole squadron was flying outside.
“Less than twelve hours ago, the accused killer of Special Agent Kevin Sniggs was found not guilty by a small town jury in nearby Canon City,” Connor announced. “But the suspect, Montgomery Turcot, is not a free man, yet. He’s been taken to the Calumet County Sheriff’s Department, which you are seeing now. All requests for an interview have been denied. As you can see, there are numerous reporters on the scene, in addition to several dozen, perhaps a hundred or so citizens of this small, rural community. The crowd has grown considerably since last evening.”
“Do you know why Turcot was taken into custody?” asked the anchor.
“It’s not yet known why the sheriff is holding Turcot, whether he is in custody or there on his own free will.”
The scene returned to the studio.
“In the studio today, we have clinical psychologist Ravi Prashad. Thank you for coming on. Dr. Prashad, would you care to speculate on what is going on up there in the Colorado mountains?”
“This ought to be good,” Ellison muttered.
“Sure,” answered Prashad. “It’s my belief that that the Calumet County Sheriff’s Department took Mr. Turcot into custody, as you speculated, based on some information that led them to suspect that he was a danger to himself or possibly others. We’re talking about an alleged cold-blooded killer here, also a man who is a combat veteran, and a man who recently lost his wife in a tragic accident. He has been in jail for several months now. You can’t just turn a person under that level of stress loose in society. He is most likely suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as well as elevated levels of anxiety and maybe even paranoia, mania, adult oppositional defiant disorder, or depression. It’s quite possible that the sheriff evaluated him, and determined that he was unstable and required overnight observation. Many kudos to this small town sheriff for his progressive action. I do believe that Turcot should be kept there until he can be evaluated by medical and psychiatric professionals and it is determined that he will not pose any danger to the community if released without supervision…”
Ellison shut off the television. “Did you hear that?” he asked, just as Stern returned from the bathroom with a razor in hand and half of his face covered in shaving cream.
“Channel 9 thinks I’m harboring a fugitive, and CNN thinks I’m detaining him for psychiatric evaluation.”
“Did you expect the media to tell the truth on their own? You’ve got to spoon feed them, Sheriff,” Stern said as he went back to shaving. “So, do I just go out there and start talking?”
“No,” Ellison answered. “I’ll go and let them know that you’re coming out to speak. You’re a little short, no offense, so I’ll try to stake out a place on the steps for you out front.” The sheriff turned toward the davenport. By this point, Turcot had woken up and was fumbling around with the coffee maker. “Monte?”
Turcot didn’t respond.
“I want you to stay inside, if that’s okay with you.”
“Whatever you think is best.”
“I’ll tell them you just want your privacy right now, that you’ve been through a lot and that you’ll talk to them later.”
“Then what?” Turcot asked.
“Well, you can’t stay here,” replied Ellison. “I don’t want them thinking I’m harboring or detaining you. And I don’t want all them news vans and that crowd getting in the way. Can you make some arrangements?”
“I could go home.”
“Can you go someplace else? I’m sure they’ll be waiting for you there.”
“I can’t think of anywhere.”
“All right. Just sit tight. Stern, you need to keep them reporters tied up for at least twenty minutes. If you run out of things to say, which I’m sure you won’t, just start taking questions. They never run out of questions.”
“Then what?” asked Stern.
“While you’re doing your presser, we’re going to get Mr. Turcot out of here, right out the back door.”
Kennesaw appeared five minutes later.
“Good morning,” the sheriff greeted him.
“Would you mind staying here in my office with Monte while I take Mr. Stern down to meet the press?”
“Not at all, Boss.”
Sheriff Ellison led Stern to the front doors. The attorney was wearing his suit from the previous day, but he otherwise looked fresh. Behind the frosted glass windows lurked his destiny. The trial and its conclusion were merely a prelude to this moment. How he handled the press now would determine his legacy from the victory in court. They had the potential to bury him if he botched it. The press was a delicate instrument, easy to play but difficult to master. Stern took a deep breath and released it in short bursts, a technique he’d learned from a yoga DVD.
“Are you ready?” Ellison asked.
“Let’s do this,” answered Stern.
The frosted glass doors swung open, and the reporters swarmed in. Ellison guided Stern to the landing at the edge of the granite stairs leading down from the station to the sidewalk. A dozen microphones jabbed into their faces immediately.
“How are you all this morning?” the sheriff addressed the crowd.
“Where’s Monte Turcot?” asked a reporter.
“Is he in jail?” another inquired.
“Mr. Turcot is inside. He’s not in jail and he’s not in custody. We are not holding him.”
“Is he under observation?”
“Negative. Mr. Turcot is free to go whenever he pleases.”
“What’s his condition?”
“He appears to be in good health, but he’s been through a lot.”
“Why isn’t he out here?”
“Yeah,” asked another. “Why won’t he speak to us about his victory in court?”
“Look,” answered the sheriff, “I just came out here to let you all know that Mr. Turcot is not in custody, and that we are going to provide transportation for him in just a few minutes. I think that you all should honor the jury’s’ verdict and be respectful of the law and of Mr. Turcot’s wishes to be left alone. He’s been through a great deal these past few months.”
“Is the sheriff’s department providing protection for Mr. Turcot?”
“Protection from who? From you guys?”
“Sheriff, are you aware that several death threats have been made towards Mr. Turcot?”
“This is the first I’ve heard of that, but I will look into it. Who’s been making them?”
“Sheriff, do you think justice was served in this case?”
“Mr. Turcot was acquitted,” answered Ellison. “That’s all that matters, as far as I’m concerned.”
“Have you heard any of the rumors that the Department of Justice wants to retry him?”
“I’m assuming that would be double jeopardy and–”
“Try him on a different charge, a civil rights charge?”
“I’ll leave that to the lawyers,” said Ellison. “I’ve got to make arrangements to transport Mr. Turcot so I can attend to other county business. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to hand things over to Mr. Turcot’s attorney. This is Benjamin Stern.” He stepped away from Stern, who began answering a flurry of questions about retrying Turcot in federal court by reciting the 5th Amendment. Ellison slipped back into the station and not ten minutes later, while Stern was still fielding questions, his cruiser emerged from the garage. The swarm of reporters scrambled into their news vans and joined in the pursuit, leaving Stern without the bulk of his audience.
Ellison led them onto the highway, then east into the arroyos and pinion forest. The road turned to dirt, and the parade of vehicles kicked up a maelstrom of dust. Mule deer pranced along the shoulders of the road, darting into the shrubs in fear. Stones pinged against steel, and the engines roared. The caravan turned north, passing through three narrow railway tunnels drilled and blasted in succession through solid granite. The sky above was cloudless, save for wispy braids of cotton contrails.
Ellison turned west, leading them onto an even rougher road. The news vans struggled to keep up, bottoming out in the ruts and on the bumps. A black Tahoe appeared in Ellison’s mirror, passing the news vans and closing in just behind them. Its driver’s side mirror had been sheared off.
As the vehicles crossed back over the highway, the pinion shrubs yielded to the tall ponderosa pines. Another turn and another mile or so, and they had turned onto Turcot’s gravel driveway. Ellison stopped in front of Turcot’s trailer, but didn’t exit his cab until the news vans and the black SUV had caught up and parked behind him. Once eight more vehicles had squeezed their way onto the shoulder of Turcot’s drive and a helicopter had taken position overhead, Sheriff Ellison finally got out to confront them. The reporters swarmed in.
“Where’s Turcot?” they shouted. “We want to ask him some questions.”
“Now this is pretty rude of you all,” Ellison replied. “I’m very disappointed. I thought I’d asked you all to respect Mr. Turcot’s privacy.”
“Just give us Turcot.”
“We just want to talk to him.”
“We’re just doing our job, Sheriff.”
“The public wants to hear from him!”
“This is private property,” Ellison said. “You are trespassing if you stay after being asked to leave.”
“Let Turcot ask us, then. Where is he?” The reporters closed in around the sheriff’s cruiser with their cameras and microphones.
“Please step away from my cruiser,” Ellison ordered.
The reporters cupped their hands on the windows, trying to catch a glimpse of the acquitted agent killer, but there was no one inside. They had been duped.
Ellison had come alone.
An hour later and twenty-five miles away to the southwest, Deputy Kennesaw stopped in front of his hunting cabin. It was a secluded place, up a rugged four wheel drive-only road, tucked snugly into the woods beyond the reach of the lumbering news vans. As they walked up to the cabin door, the deputy and Monte Turcot could hear water running in a hidden brook in the forest nearby. Kennesaw stretched and breathed in the solitude.
“Whenever I come out here, I cut all my troubles loose with this first deep breath,” he explained. “Try it out. You look like you could use it more than me.”
Turcot breathed in and exhaled.
Kennesaw smiled. “Welcome to my little hideout, Monte.”