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“How do I look?” Turcot asked.
“Not so great,” Bear answered.
“I bet I feel even worse,” Turcot groaned, still clutching his wound. The blood had dried overnight and the following day, blackening his clothes. It was twilight, and growing colder. They had run out of wood, and the stove was burned out. Turcot’s face was graying by the hour.
Bear crawled to the front wall and peered out through a bullet hole.
“What do you see?” Turcot asked.
“Same as earlier, six vehicles,” reported the sheriff. “There’s maybe fifteen agents out there, a few more, perhaps.”
“Why aren’t they coming in?”
“I don’t know. Maybe they know you’re wounded and they’re just going to wait it out.” Bear glanced down at his watch. “You need to be in a hospital, Monte.”
“No, Sheriff…” Turcot writhed. “I’d rather die in here. You can go. I only ask…that you leave me the rifle.”
“I’m not leaving you. I gave my word.”
“I’m already gone, Sheriff,” groaned Turcot. “They’ll just be speeding things up.”
“Don’t be so negative,” Bear said, reassuringly. “Help is coming.”
Turcot’s eyes rolled up, and for a moment he was completely motionless, breathing imperceptibly. Bear was unsure if he had expired, but a few seconds later, he came to.
“Tell me something, Sheriff…” Turcot murmured.
“Why do you keep…” He paused to catch his breath. “…looking at your watch? You keep checking it…every five minutes.”
Bear didn’t answer at first. He slid over to another bullet hole to get a better view. The light was fading.
“Sheriff…” Turcot groaned.
“Sorry. What did you ask?”
“I asked you why…why you look at your watch…all the time. Are you expecting…a delivery or something?”
“No.” Bear slid away from the wall and sat down next to Turcot. He set his rifle on the floor and pulled his coat sleeve back, revealing the watch. “Look. It doesn’t even work.”
“Did the batteries die…or something?”
“Why do you wear it, then?” asked Turcot.
“Old reasons, I guess.”
Bear looked down at it again. “Twenty-seven years.”
Turcot wheezed out a painful, feeble laugh. “Why would you…you wear a broken watch…for twenty-seven years?”
“That’s a good question.”
“Well? Is there a reason?”
“Does anyone know it?”
“Two people: my wife and Ken Kennesaw.”
Bear looked at him with an eyebrow raised. “Can I trust you?”
“I’ll keep your secret…to the end of my days,” Turcot joked.
“Twenty seven years ago, I was a young deputy.” Bear fidgeted with the rifle for a moment before continuing. “I didn’t know anything. I was working in El Paso County at the time. Third shift. There was this other deputy…Fuller was his name. He has this guy pulled over for drunk driving. Fuller’s got him out of the car doing a roadside when I pull up behind them. Everything’s going routine, but then the guy starts getting feisty. He’s cursing, mouthing off, nothing Fuller hadn’t seen a hundred times. Then he starts flailing his arms, gesturing. Fuller moves in and tells him to cool it, but the suspect throws this punch, this wild, drunken haymaker. It hits Fuller right on the nose, a one-in-a-million punch. It buckles him for a second, but he charges back and grabs the drunk, spins him around, and throws him down on the road. By that time, I’m out of my car and I jump on the guy, but he’s as strong as an ox. It takes everything I got to hold him down while Fuller’s trying to cuff him. I’m shouting, ‘Stop resisting! Stop resisting!’ but he keeps fighting. Fuller finally gets the cuffs on him, but he’s still kicking. Then someone yanks me off him. I look up and I see Fuller standing over us, blood gushing out of his nose. It’s obviously broken, already swelling up. And he’s got the devil is in his eyes. You ever see that look when someone gets it? There’s no stopping them when they’re in that place.”
“I’ve seen it,” murmured Turcot.
“Fuller has his sidearm drawn. Before I could even say anything…” Bear made a pistol out of his hand and forefinger. “Bang. The suspect’s dead.”
Turcot looked on, wincing in pain. “Then what happened?”
“Fuller looks at me,” the sheriff said. “I honestly didn’t know if he was gonna shoot me or what. He looked insane. I was terrified.”
“He holstered his weapon and went to his cruiser to call it in.” Bear took a long breath and sighed. “I tried CPR on the guy, but he was gone, fast.”
“Wha…what happened to Fuller?”
“Nothing,” answered Bear, matter-of-factly.
“Oh, there was an inquest, but nothing came of it.”
“Wasn’t there a dash cam?”
“It was almost thirty years ago.”
“So nothing happened?”
“No. Fuller was cleared. It was determined that he had reason to fear for his safety. It was ruled justifiable.”
“How did they…come to that?” Turcot’s tone darkened. “Did you cover for him?”
“I did what I thought I had to at that time,” said the sheriff. “I was just starting out, Monte. I had a family to feed. I corroborated Fuller’s story – that the suspect attempted to take my weapon and Fuller shot him to stop him from turning it on us.”
“How’d that settle with you?”
“I rationalized it. We’re the good guys, right? I convinced myself that Fuller thought that drunk was going for my gun. I kept telling myself that eventually it would go away, that I’d forget about it.”
“But it didn’t go away?” Turcot asked.
“Well, maybe that’s why you’re sitting on this floor with me now. Maybe this is your chance for redemption.” Turcot laughed painfully at himself.
Bear jerked a look at him, then went back to staring at the floor.
“So what does this…(groan)…have to do with your watch?”
“My watch broke during the scuffle. It’s stuck on 3:01, the exact minute Fuller shot that man and I betrayed my oath as an officer of the law. He was in my custody. He was handcuffed. It was my duty to ensure his safety.
“When I discovered it’d stopped, I put it in a drawer and forgot about it. It stayed there for a long time. But then one day, I decided to take it in and see about getting it fixed. I got all the way to the mall before all the emotions came flooding in. Guilt. Shame. Dishonor. I almost chucked it out the window, but then something turned. This broken watch became a reminder of who I was and what I’d done. It was uncomfortable. But it reminded me that the right path is often difficult and narrow and you can’t always appreciate the impact of your choices until you are a long way past them. So I put it back on, and I’ve worn it ever since.”
“So that fed who got shot out there, do you think you did it?”
“I doubt it. My adrenaline was so high that I think I only shot the ceiling. You can see the bullet holes in the light. But either way, my conscience is clean. They were warned. They had no reason to come in here, guns a-blazing. They could have just waited us out, without shooting.”
“What if he dies? No guilt?”
“Let’s just say I’ll be returning fire if they come again.”
Turcot pushed himself up against the wall. “Sheriff…”
“You’ve got to go. They’ll kill you.”
“I don’t want to believe that, but it’s a possibility. I imagine the next thing they’ll do is burn the cabin down. If you agree to surrender, at least we could get you to a hospital.”
“I’m not surrendering,” said Turcot. “But you’ve got to go. At least one of us will survive, then, to tell the story.”
“I gave you my word, Monte. I won’t leave you. One broken watch is enough burden for me.”
“You may want to reconsider.”
“Ever been to Texas, Sheriff?” Turcot changed the subject.
“I’ve been to Austin.”
“I served with a guy from Odessa,” recalled Turcot. “Specialist Carlos Navarro. He had a son who was…(groan)…trying out for Permian’s football team. You play any ball, Sheriff?”
“A long time ago.”
“Your dad ever see you play?”
“He did,” Bear replied.
“It’s a good feeling…that pride you feel…when you know your dad is watching you play ball…and you make a play.”
“Navarro’s son will never know what that’s like.”
“Killed by grenade,” Turcot murmured. “I was with him.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
Turcot sighed and pushed himself into another position against the wall. “I love the Cowboys, Sheriff… They’ve mostly been a train wreck…(sigh)…since the nineties…but they were good for a long time.”
“They were pretty good in the nineties and the seventies,” Bear added.
“When I was a kid,” continued Turcot, “I used to wonder what God looked like.”
“What did you think he looked like, Monte?”
“I used to think he looked like Tom Landry.”
The sheriff grinned.
“I’ve never been to Texas. It seems so open…just a giant, wide open place.” A calmness flowed through Turcot, as if his pain had subsided. “At least, that’s how I envision it. I’m not talking about Houston or Dallas – more like west Texas, like Odessa, Lubbock, all oil rigs and dusty buttes and antelope. A place where I could disappear.”
“I imagine you could, down there. Get some rest, Monte.”
Monte closed his eyes and mumbled incoherently as he slipped into unconsciousness.
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