Kennesaw sat up in his bunk. He was paired with a burly biker nicknamed Duke, in a holding cell at the federal penitentiary just south of Calumet City – because there had been nowhere else for the DEA to take him. Duke’s white tee shirt rode up over his pot belly. His forearms and neck were tattooed. His beard was wild and gray, and his face was thick and cracked and red. Duke’s frayed silver hair was pulled back into a ponytail. He cleared his throat every time before he spoke.
“We’re gonna get your boys out of there,” Duke said to the ceiling, as he lay on his back in the top bunk.
“What are you talking about?” Kennesaw asked, looking up.
“Things are brewing.” Duke turned over to speak facing downwards, bracing himself with his tattooed forearm. “It’s time to settle some old scores. What’s going on up there at Mahonville is about as good a reason as any to get a rally going. The word is out, my brother. We’re coming. We’re coming from all over. Locked and loaded.”
“How do they know?” Kennesaw asked.
“Word travels fast up here, in the rarified air.”
“You have a visitor,” another voice announced.
Kennesaw stepped to the door and pushed his wrists through to be handcuffed. Three tense guards, dressed head to toe in riot gear, walked him down the hall. Detainees shouted “Free Turcot! Free Turcot!” as they passed. “Hey trooper, you going to the Mahonville River biker rally?” yelled a prisoner. One of the guards beat his club on the bars to shut him up.
“I hear there’s gonna be a luau,” remarked another man. “I wonder what’s on the menu.” “So sorry, I can’t make it. Hey guard, you mind telling me all about it afterward?”
“I heard the Vagos are gonna crash that party,” said another. “You hear that, jailer? You might want to stay away. It could get a little rough…”
They passed through a checkpoint into a conference cell, where Kennesaw was left alone. The walls were white. The door was white. The floor was white linoleum. A fluorescent light fixture hung from a white, acoustic-tile ceiling. There were no windows. Kennesaw sat in one of two gray plastic chairs at a steel table. He was still shackled. About ten minutes later, the door opened and the tanned, Mediterranean face of Frenchie Francione appeared. He was dressed in a bulging, plaid cowboy shirt, a turquoise-inlaid silver bolo tie, baggy blue jeans, and his badly worn, snakeskin boots. His warm tones and hues contrasted sharply with the morgue-like coldness of the room.
“Look at you,” Frenchie said, grinning.
“Yeah,” Kennesaw grumbled. “Look at me.”
“Of all the people you could call, you call me?”
“Other than my wife, who else would I call?” Kennesaw asked.
“Your lawyer, maybe?”
“Do you happen to know any?”
“I know a few, but you should be asking if I know any that are good.”
Kennesaw rested his cuffed wrists on the table and smiled.
“They’re working up quite a sheet on you,” Frenchie continued. “Obstruction of justice, assault on a federal agent, resisting arrest, aiding and abetting, acts of terrorism…”
“It’s all BS,” said Kennesaw. “You know how it works. They build it all up, then they peel it off in exchange for this or that.”
“I suppose,” answered Frenchie. “I’m sure you’ll get off, after you roll over.”
Kennesaw scowled, but Frenchie winked back, letting him know he was kidding.
“How’s Bear?” the deputy asked.
Frenchie shook his head. “It’s a mess. The feds have two dozen agents up there, now. And there’s been some fireworks.”
“I heard shooting when I was there. Has there been more?”
“Just the one shootout, so far. It seems that Acevedo’s men tried to storm the cabin,” explained Frenchie. “Someone started shooting. DEA says it was Ellison, that’s what they told the media, anyway. The press is painting it as some lunatic sheriff gone rogue – holed up in a cabin, sniping at law enforcement.”
“No surprise there.”
“Well, it gets worse. It seems that an agent got himself wounded.”
“It was probably one of their own that shot him,” Kennesaw said.
“As far as CNN tells it, your crazy rogue sheriff is to blame.”
“Do we have any deputies up there keeping an eye on things?”
“They can’t get close enough,” replied Frenchie. “The road up the pass is blocked by DEA. They’ve got a helicopter watching for anything else. The back roads are still a muddy mess. I’ve got a couple cowboys on horseback doing some recon.”
“So why haven’t they taken the cabin yet?”
“Don’t know for sure. They’ve probably decided that things are a little more complicated when people shoot back. They aren’t used to that. Maybe they figure they’ll just wait it out. Turcot and the sheriff have to be low on water. There’s no sense in risking getting another agent hurt.” Frenchie took off his tinted glasses, revealing the concern etched into his eyes. “How are you holding up, Ken? I hear they don’t take too kindly to LEOs in here.”
“Strangely enough, everyone inside has been very supportive. Can you get me bonded out?”
“It’s big money. It’s going to take until tomorrow.”
“That’s too long.”
Frenchie leaned back in his chair, looking frustrated.
“I need you to do something for me, Frenchie,” Kennesaw continued. “It’s a big favor to ask. Do you have a pen and a business card?”
Kennesaw took the card and scribbled on it. He glanced towards the surveillance camera mounted in the ceiling as he flipped the card over and pushed it across the table. Frenchie took the card and tucked it in his pocket.
“Go see my wife,” the deputy explained. “She’s expecting you. She has something for you. I gave it to her the night of the Stern murder. That password there on that card will open it. Listen to the recordings. Then look at the files.”
“What’s on there?”
“I think you’ll find it very interesting.”
“Is there any way you can get me out sooner?” Kennesaw asked. “I’ve got to get up there.”
“I’ll do everything I can,” Frenchie said as he put his glasses back on. “Help is coming in the meantime.”
“I made some calls, then they made some calls. It seems that there are plenty of folks around here ready to step up and help their sheriff. They’ve been getting the word out – emails, social media. Folks are coming in from all over. Calumet City’s filling up.”
Kennesaw contemplated for a moment. “I thought you said the networks were against us.”
“They are, but no one pays attention to those assholes anymore.”
“Do we have enough?”
“Hundreds are here already, Ken, ready to make a stand. Maybe thousands more will arrive within a couple days.” Frenchie stood up from his chair and knocked on the door to summon the guard.
“Tell me something,” he whispered as footsteps approached. “Do you know of anyone in your department who can drive that MRAP? We’ve got a roadblock to bust.”