A predawn knock on Sheriff Ellison’s front door filled him with dread. Nothing good ever happened after 2 a.m. If it had been Kennesaw or another deputy trying to reach him, he would have received a call beforehand. Ellison got out of bed, trying his best not to wake Nguyet, but then he remembered that she had already left – gone to Atlanta to be with their granddaughter. Pushing the thoughts of her aside, he felt his way over to his dresser in the darkness.
The visitor knocked again. Ellison fumbled around for his pants and moved blindly toward his armchair. Reaching out, he felt for his holster, snatched it from the chair, and fastened it around his waist. The sheriff slowly stepped down the hallway towards the front door without turning on the light or making a sound. Before the next knock could come, he flicked on the exterior porch light, blinding whoever was there to his movements inside. He peered between the curtains of the dining room window, careful not to disturb them. Any ruffling might reveal his location.
Two men stood outside: one on the porch about to knock again and another one step down on the stairs. Both of them wore baseball caps and blue windbreakers with yellow lettering on the sleeves – the uniform of the U.S. Marshals Service. Ellison moved over to the front door, turned the deadbolt, and opened it about halfway.
“What brings you gentlemen out here?” he addressed them.
“Sheriff,” greeted the agent standing at the door. “I’m Inspector James Weathers, and this here is Deputy Kelly Scott. May we have a word with you?”
“What would you possibly need to talk about at this hour?”
“We just need to have a brief conversation with you,” Weathers explained.
“We’d prefer to have it in our Jeep,” added Scott.
Ellison found the request unusual. It sounded more like the prelude to an interrogation as opposed to a brief conversation.
“There’s no one else home,” he said. “We can talk right here. Or better yet, come inside.”
“We’d rather talk in the Jeep,” Scott repeated.
Ellison spotted the Jeep Cherokee parked outside, and reluctantly stepped out onto the porch.
“We don’t think that will be necessary,” commented the agent, eyeballing the sheriff’s holster. Ellison felt his heartbeat quicken. The rush of blood pressure sent his focus into overdrive, and his instincts rapidly took hold of his mind.
“I never leave my house in the middle of the night without it,” he said, beaming his resolve directly into Scott’s skull. Relinquishing his firearm was not in any way negotiable.
The deputy stared back, revealing no lack of conviction on his part. A silent standoff ensued, lasting an uncomfortable half minute. Law enforcers are conditioned to never yield, to never back down. When faced with resistance to their demands, their response is simply to escalate, all the way to violence if necessary. The vast portion of the civilian population quickly and wisely capitulates before it comes to that, regardless of the legality of the demand. But this was a standoff between two law enforcers – an irresistible force and an immovable object. The standard model could not resolve the situation.
Deputy Scott stared at the sheriff like a poker player attempting to unnerve a weaker opponent. Ellison continued glaring back, unflinching. He knew that if the marshals forced him to give up his firearm, then it was not just a simple conversation they sought, and that he was, in fact, being detained, questioned, and possibly arrested. He needed to know that before he would proceed with them into their vehicle. He considered just coming out and asking them directly, but he didn’t want to do that. Asking directly might raise suspicion in their minds, although he had no clear idea what they might think he was guilty of.
Exhausted by the silence, Ellison decided to press them. “Well, I can keep my sidearm, or you two can come down to my office and we can chat during business hours. How does that sound?”
“You’d probably lose a lot of sleep if we had to go away now and do this later,” replied Scott.
“I haven’t been sleeping much since my wife left for Georgia, but the suspense is killing me.”
“It’s okay, Kelly,” Weathers intervened. “He can keep his sidearm.”
Sheriff Ellison had gotten his answer. He wasn’t being detained. Still, he found the irregularity of the situation curious. He reasoned that it had to do with his aiding in Turcot’s disappearance. He knew how meticulous the Department of Justice was. They had probably sent the marshals to gather information on him, and were likely attempting to glean Turcot’s whereabouts and probably build a file on the sheriff as a person of interest. They wanted to make a statement by knocking on his door in the darkest predawn hours, startling and stressing him and his wife. They must have been unaware that Nguyet had left.
“Shall we go, then?” Ellison asked.
The two marshals escorted the sheriff into the Jeep. Ellison was offered the front passenger seat, while Deputy Scott took the rear seat directly behind him, where the sheriff could not see him without turning awkwardly. Weathers got in the driver’s side.
“So, what’s this conversation going to be about, gentlemen?” asked Ellison once the doors had closed.
“I’ll come right out with it, Sheriff,” said Weathers. “We need you to tell us where Monte Turcot is.”
“A warrant for his arrest will be issued in the morning. We intend to bring him in.”
“On what charge?”
“Violating Agent Sniggs’s civil rights.”
Ellison looked confused. “Explain.”
“They’re going to try Turcot again,” Scott added, “since your redneck jury blew it.”
“That would be double jeopardy, wouldn’t it?” replied Ellison.
“It’s a different charge,” explained Weathers.
“Still sounds like you have a Fifth Amendment problem to me.”
“Whose side are you on?” inquired Scott.
“What?” Ellison asked, indignantly,
“Do you want justice for Agent Sniggs or not?”
“The law, however imperfect, has already been applied,” Ellison answered. “If we just hit the reset button whenever the verdict is wrong, then the law means nothing.”
“The law means whatever the court says it means,” retorted Scott. “If they say we can try him again, then we can try him again. You can leave the constitutional questions to the Supremes. That’s not your job. You know that.”
The sheriff considering giving Turcot up right at that moment, but he looked at his watch instead, and decided that he needed more time to think. “I can’t tell you where he is. Not tonight.”
“That’s bullshit!” snapped Scott from behind, almost shouting in Ellison’s ear.
“I sent him away with a deputy. They’re out in the woods, out of cell range.”
“He’s a fugitive!” Weathers exclaimed.
“Not until you produce a warrant.”
“Why are you hiding him?”
“I was helping him get out of the public eye for a few days until things calmed down,” explained Ellison. “I was made aware he was receiving death threats. My deputy will check in with me in the morning. I’ll give you something by noon at the latest.”
“Who do you think we are?” asked Scott. “Do you think we just came from Bumfuck County down the road? We know you know where he is. Don’t think we can’t get you on obstruction if necessary. That would be the end of your career.”
“Ending my career might just be doing me a favor,” answered Ellison as he twisted around to face the marshal. “In the meantime, I’d be happy to send someone out to bring him in…after you produce an arrest warrant. Otherwise, you can go.”
“We can live with that, Sheriff,” Weathers interrupted, before the argument escalated. “Noon tomorrow will be fine.”
“Good,” said Ellison. “We’ll see you then.”
The sheriff wrenched the door open and pulled himself out of the Jeep. He heard the engine start as he walked towards his porch. As the two marshals backed out, a bright light flashed on from farther down the driveway. Ellison hadn’t realized that another visitor was parked in the darkness, obscured by the trees. Its engine revved, and he managed to identify it as the purr of a Vortec 5300 V8, a Tahoe engine. It pulled out and drove off into the night with the Jeep following close behind.
Ellison walked up the stairs onto his porch, and stood there for a moment under the light, contemplating the evolving situation. There wasn’t much reason for him to protect Monte Turcot from the feds. Still, the notion of giving up the man he had done so much to protect bothered the sheriff. He reached in the doorway and shut off the porch light, then went back into his house and locked the deadbolt. The night was still and completely silent. The sky was its blackest just before the predawn glow, painted in innumerable stars.
Ellison lay in bed, staring out the window until the sky grayed in the east.