Tag Archives: Oathkeeper

Great Review of Oathkeeper

From Michael Ackerson on Audible:

“An awesome ride”

As the federal government seeks to reopen the War on Drugs, Oathkeeper feels very timely. Set in Colorado, a small town sheriff finds himself in the crosshairs of a corrupt federal official. A David-VS-Goliath showdown is brewing, and right from the start things don’t look very good for our heroes. Given the fact that Oathkeeper is published by a company called Prepper Press, you can imagine what kind of position the book takes, but don’t let that fool you – Oathkeeper is a great ride that will keep you guessing right up until the very end.

Fans of Quentin Tarantino will feel right at home here. Oathkeeper has a grit to it, and it does it well – finding its footing somewhere between No Country for Old Men and Reservoir Dogs. Troy Grice has put together a world that will feel instantly recognizable to anyone who has spent time in an impoverished rural community. Grice has no problem heading headlong into the brutal results of drug addiction and crippling poverty facing small towns struggling to exist as a world apathetic to their existence passes them by.

There is a lot of moral ambiguity in Oathkeeper, and it pairs well with Grice’s language which ranges from almost pastoral descriptions to cartoon violence. Grice’s characters and locations have history, good, bad and random and that gives them welcome depth. Are there good guys in Oathkeeper? Yeah, I suppose so. Are there bad guys? Yeah, I guess. However, one of the most refreshing parts about Oathkeeper is that it also has a lot of middle ground, and it doesn’t go out of its way to hold your hand about it.

Grice also sets up one of the most entertaining uses of Chekhov’s gun – in the form of an armored all-terrain vehicle equipped with a massive cannon – that I’ve seen in a long while. It’s introduced in the very first chapter and readers are left guessing “are we going to see the tank?” – and while I won’t say exactly when that happens, I will say that it was supremely satisfying.

Gabriel Zacchai’s narration is pitch perfect. He switches back and forth between dramatization and narration perfectly, keeping welcome pace with the tempo of the book. Fans of storytelling and of the oral tradition are in for a treat with this book’s production.

At the end of the day, how you feel about this book may be determined by how you feel about the War on Drugs, however, I’d urge you to give it a shot regardless of your opinion on that front. Oathkeeper is smart, and there is plenty here to like – you’re in for a thoroughly enjoyable ride.

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Bundy Standoff Lawyer Tackled, Tasered by U.S. Marshals

The Bundy’s were acquitted, but the gendarme of the U.S. government didn’t really appreciate that verdict so much. When the Bundy’s lawyer, Marcus Mumford, asked why the defendants weren’t being released, the U.S. Marshals moved in and tackled and tasered him.

And you think this country isn’t a banana republic? Lol.

At least the Bundy’s didn’t suffer the misfortune of having their trial preempted by being incinerated and crushed alive by bulldozer-tanks.

If you will allow me to toot my own horn for a moment, I believe it is worth noting that this government farce was presaged in my story ‘Oathkeeper’.

Read more (spoiler warning)

Brian’s Book Blog Reviews ‘Oathkeeper’

Brian of Audiobookreviewer writes:

Oathkeeper kept me guessing through the entire thing.  Every time I thought I had the story figured out it would twist and turn and totally change my opinions. Keeping me on my toes in a story that I thought was going to be very simple was a nice surprise…..READ MORE

Please check out Brian’s excellent blog!

Click thumbnail for Amazon link:

Oathkeeper

Oathkeeper Chapter 27

Oathkeeper

Email troyjgrice@hotmail.com for the password to the last 2 chapters!

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Chapter 27

 

“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.”

“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.

“Anything.”

“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?”

“It’s broken.”

“Why do you wear it, then?” asked Turcot.

“Old reasons, I guess.”

“How old?”

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?”

“There is.”

“Does anyone know it?”

“Two people: my wife and Ken Kennesaw.”

“Tell me.”

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.”

“Then?”

“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.

“No…investigation?”

“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.

“No.”

“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…”

“Yeah?”

“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.”

“Why’s that?”

“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.”

“It is.”

“Navarro’s son will never know what that’s like.”

“What happened?”

“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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Email troyjgrice@hotmail.com for the password to the last 2 chapters!

Oathkeeper Chapter 26

Oathkeeper

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Chapter 26

 

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?”

“Sure. Here.”

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.”

“Got it.”

“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.”

“Who?”

“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.”

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Oathkeeper Chapter 25

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Chapter 25

 

“Back so soon?” Turcot asked, pulling on his coat as the sheriff burst into the cabin.

“They found us,” Bear panted.

“I see that. How?”

“Not sure. Maybe they bugged Kennesaw’s cruiser. What are you doing?”

“I’m getting the hell out of here. What does it look like?”

Bear grabbed Turcot’s arm. “They’re already here. You won’t get far.”

“I’ll take my chances.”

“If you go out there, I have no idea what they’ll do. At least in here, we can turn it into a standoff. It’ll buy time until help comes.”

“How long before they get to you and you hand me over?”

“I won’t do that,” Bear promised. “Close those windows over there. Turn that lantern down, and stay low.”

Engines growled and whirred back in the trees.

“Listen to that,” Bear said. “They’re stuck in the mud.”

“I can’t see anything.”

“See over there? Move that bookcase in front of that window.”

The two men wrestled with the bookcase, hauling it into place. Once the window was covered, Bear and Turcot slid the sofa, barricading it up against the door.

“What if they’re coming up on foot?” Turcot asked as he looked out the window again. “It’s too dark to see anything.”

Bear picked up his rifle, went to the other window and opened it. He pushed a magazine into the receiver, yanked the charging handle back, aimed out the window into the ground, and fired three times. The reports echoed through the trees until they faded, leaving only the rumble of the DEA vehicles’ engines.

“Did you see them? Are they coming?” Turcot shouted.

“No. I’m just letting them know that we’re armed.” Bear fired again. “That ought to send the message. Close those windows there. Pull the curtains.”

When the cabin was finally locked down, the sheriff crouched on the floor by the front window. Turcot sat on the floor in the kitchen, making sure to keep himself out of sight in case the agents were looking in with infrared scopes.

“What do we do now?” he asked in a low voice.

“We wait,” Bear answered in the darkness.

Twenty minutes passed before the Tahoes closed in on the cabin. The engines went silent, and spotlights swept the cabin windows, illuminating the interior. As Turcot and the sheriff listened, several doors opened and men exited their vehicles. Footsteps crunched in the snow as the agents encircled the cabin, taking up firing positions to cover every exit point. It sounded like five or six in total. They could hear a few of the men moving around to the back, but there was no back door and no windows on that side. No one was entering or leaving that way.

“Do not approach the cabin!” Bear shouted. “We are armed!”

No response.

“This is Sheriff Bear Ellison! I repeat, do not approach the cabin! We will open fire if you try to enter!”

The footfalls stopped. The spotlight beams fixed on the windows, lighting the ceiling, the back wall, and the kitchen cupboards.

“Sheriff Ellison,” a tinny voice replied on a PA. “We know Turcot’s in there. Come out now, and we’ll get everything straightened out. Don’t make a mess out of things. All we want is Monte Turcot. It’s time for us to take him in.”

“You need to back off!” shouted the sheriff. “You don’t have my authorization to be here.”

“We don’t need your authorization. We have a federal warrant.”

“You need my authorization in my county. Now back off.”

“Be reasonable, Sheriff. You’re outnumbered.”

“You’ve got what, six men? Your odds aren’t that good.”

“We’ll have a dozen more soon enough.”

“And so will we,” Bear answered.

“You’re harboring a fugitive, Sheriff. Send him out now and we can work the rest of this out…without the use of force.”

“Just leave the rifle,” Turcot whispered. “Leave it with me and go. No sense in both of us getting killed.”

“There’s no sense in either of us getting killed, Monte,” Bear replied. “I don’t think Acevedo’s a lunatic. They won’t do anything rash. They’ll wait until they get a battalion up here before they even think about trying anything. Kennesaw will bring help by then.”

“We have your deputy,” added the speaker on the PA.

The sheriff cursed under his breath, then feigned indifference. “Yeah? So what? What are you holding him on?”

“Obstruction and resisting arrest.”

“You go ahead and hold him, then. He wasn’t following my orders.”

“We’re coming in there, Sheriff.”

“I’m warning you, I will open fire if you try to come in! I mean it!” Bear turned to Turcot in the shadows. “Get down, over by the stove.” Turcot didn’t budge, remaining by the cupboards. Footsteps sloshed and crunched through the mud and snow. Another spotlight turned on, brightening the window to their left. Shadows of running men crossed the beam. Bear nestled the butt of his rifle high into his shoulder, pointing the barrel at the door. Boots thumped on the porch, and agents whispered commands to each other.

“Don’t come in here! I will open fire,” the sheriff shouted again. The agents shuffled around, taking their positions. Bear slid over to the recliner to get a better angle on the men.

A grenade burst through the window with a crash. It stopped in the middle of the floor, framed in a patch of reflected searchlight. Without hesitation, Turcot lunged for the smoldering explosive, grabbed it, and tossed it back out the front window, shattering the other pane. Just as it broke through the glass, it burst with a deafening pop and a blinding flash of brilliant white.

“Motherfucker!” someone squealed outside. A gun barrel jabbed through the side window. Muzzle flash. Several rounds went off. Bear spun towards the shooter and fired blindly four times in response. A hail of gunfire erupted as bullets ripped through the cabin. Outmatched, he ducked down as low as he could and covered his head. Turcot and the sheriff were caught in the middle of the agents’ crossfire. Several dozen rounds zipped overhead. Splinters of wood and shards of glass exploded in every direction, and bullets pinged off the stove.

Then, just as suddenly as it had started, the firing paused. For a moment, the only sound was the trickling, dripping of fluid. A bullet had punctured the kettle and water was leaking out, running off the stove and spilling onto the floor.

“Agent down! Agent down!” shouted a voice from outside.

“Pull back! Pull back!” another commanded.

Footsteps stumbled off the porch. The spotlights switched off. It was pitch black inside the cabin, save for the squares of midnight blue sky that filled the uncovered windows. Bear caught his breath.

“Turcot,” he whispered. “Turcot, are you all right?”

“I’m hit,” groaned Turcot. Bear couldn’t see him.

“How bad?”

“I don’t know.”

The sheriff crawled through broken glass and fragments towards Turcot’s voice. He was balled up in the middle of the floor.

“Where is it?” Bear asked. “Show me.”

“Right here.” Turcot rolled over, clutching at his side.

“Yeah, you’re bleeding pretty bad,” the sheriff said. “Keep pressure on the wound. Can you crawl?”

“I think so.”

“Let’s get you over there.” Ellison helped Turcot drag himself into the back corner of the cabin, behind the stove. “I can’t see what it looks like.”

“I should have run for it when I had the chance,” Turcot murmured faintly.

“Do you have a flashlight in here somewhere?”

“I think it’s in the kitchen drawer, left of the sink.”

Hunched over low, Bear scurried into the kitchen with his rifle. He worked his way along the cabinets and bullet holes and debris until he reached the sink. Pulling the drawer open, he felt around for the flashlight, grabbed it, and darted back to Turcot. He clicked on the light to assess the injury.

“It’s serious, isn’t it?” Turcot asked.

“Every bullet wound is serious,” answered the sheriff. “Just keep putting pressure on it.”

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Oathkeeper Chapter 24

Oathkeeper

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Chapter 24

 

“How much longer can he stay up here?” Kennesaw asked as he and Ellison started down the road, away from the hideout.

“Not much,” answered the sheriff. “Sounds like he’s cracking.”

The cruiser reached the end of the goat trail and turned onto the ruts that wound back down into the valley. It was dark, and the moon was just a sliver. They had just reached the waterfall when Ellison spotted something in the distance.

“Stop! Kill the lights!” he ordered.

Kennesaw braked.

“Shut her down.”

“Sure thing, Boss.” Kennesaw clicked off the car’s headlights and killed the engine. “Did you see something?”

“Do you see that?” Bear rolled down his window, listening as he stared through the darkness. Through the trees and far below, several faint lights moved towards them. “Down there on the road, across the bridge.”

“I do now,” muttered Kennesaw, following the sheriff’s gaze. “Do you think it’s Acevedo’s men?”

“Who else would be driving out here right now?”

“What should we do?”

“Just wait a second. Let’s see if they turn and come up this way.” Bear leaned out of the window and listened. Whatever sound the approaching vehicles made was drowned out by rushing water. The spring storm was melting away. Soon, the valley roads would be channels of mud – impassable for days.

“It doesn’t look like they’re slowing down, Boss,” Kennesaw noted.

“I can’t tell,” answered the sheriff. “I lost their lights in the trees. Keep watching.”

The starlight illuminated the opposing ridge of icy peaks in shades of lavender and gray, while the black pines stood like silent sentries all around them. The water gushed from beside the cruiser, rolling down towards the valley floor where it joined the Mahonville River. Ellison continued to listen, searching through the shadowy forest for any sign of approaching headlights. Kennesaw rolled down his window to listen as well. He could hear better without the water rushing on his side.

“Do you see their lights?” he asked.

“No.” Ellison’s eyes drifted skyward. A ghostly jetliner passed overhead, laying a contrail of ice. The radio chirped with static, and Kennesaw turned the volume down.

“I can’t tell if they turned up this way,” Bear remarked.

“What if it’s them?” Kennesaw asked.

“Listen…” The sheriff rolled his window up to quiet the gushing on his side, then leaned towards Kennesaw’s window.

“I heard something,” the deputy said.

“Shhh,” Bear ordered. An engine growled faintly from down below. “It’s them. They’re coming this way.”

“What should we do?”

“Get us turned around. Drop me off at the trail. Then you just keep going on towards Gunnison. Bring help as soon as you can.”

“They won’t follow me, Boss,” Kennesaw warned him. “Not when they see the tracks going up to the cabin. You won’t make it before they overtake you.”

“Just drive!” shouted Ellison.

The vehicles were approaching, fast. Kennesaw started the engine. There was no place to turn where they were so he backed up blindly. The headlights of the Tahoes appeared, dashing between the trees on the road below, and casting long, sweeping shadows ahead of them. As they reached a wide spot in the road, Kennesaw tried to execute a 180 degree turn, but the tires slipped in the ruts. Their engines roaring, the DEA trucks climbed through the mud below the cruiser, closing in rapidly. Kennesaw backed up to get a better bite on the road. The glow of headlights swept the treetops overhead as the cruiser’s wheels spun and whirred on the slush and mud. The treads grabbed hold, and the vehicle righted itself and propelled forward. They took off back towards the cabin.

“They’ll see my brake lights,” Kennesaw said.

“No brakes,” Bear replied. “Go! Just get me close!”

The road switched back as it climbed. The cruiser’s engine wailed, and the tires spun as they lost traction on the icy patches. The sound of the Tahoes grew steadily louder. The agents were closing in fast. As Bear looked back, flashing red, white, and blue lights appeared in the darkness behind them.

“They saw us!” Kennesaw shouted.

“Just keep driving. Go faster!” Grabbing his radio, the sheriff hurriedly relayed their location to the CCSD, requesting backup as well. As the cruiser heaved and fishtailed through the mud, Bear unmounted his M&P rifle and reached into the back for the ammo vest. It held six thirty-round magazines of 5.56. Finally, they reached the goat trail that led to the cabin.

“Let me out here!” the sheriff shouted as he pulled the door handle, but discovered that it had been locked.

Ignoring the sheriff’s command, Kennesaw turned onto the trail. “Just let me get you a little closer, Boss,” he muttered.

They swerved and yawed and spun up the narrow, rutted road, following their own tracks in the snow by the starlight.

“This is good enough. Stop here,” Bear ordered. “Stop!”

Kennesaw stopped and unlocked the passenger door. The sheriff opened it and stepped out, stealing a quick glance at the approaching lights.

“Get going,” he said. “Get to Gunnison.”

“Let me stay, Boss,” Kennesaw protested. “Let me see this thing through with you. You need help.”

“The only way you can help is to get Stern’s files out,” Bear said as he grabbed the rifle and turned towards the cabin. “I can hold them off for a while. Get going! Now!”

Kennesaw hesitated, then turned the cruiser around and started back down the trail, driving even more frantically. He had to beat the agents to the turn before they could cut off his escape. Their flashers illuminated the trees. The deputy floored the accelerator, swerving as rocks rattled up into the wheel wells.  The cruiser banged into a tree trunk, and the impact tore his rear bumper loose. Branches scraped and screeched along the side panels. Kennesaw worked the steering wheel wildly as he bounced around in the cab. Lights filled up the trees ahead. He turned on his headlamps and flashers, racing to the clearing just before the turn, but he was too late. Acevedo’s men had beaten him to the junction, and they were rolling up the trail towards him. There was nothing left to do but try and stifle their advance as best as he could. It would at least buy the sheriff some additional time. He pulled the wheel sharply left and the cruiser yawed wildly, sliding to a perpendicular stop and blocking the road. Kennesaw slammed it into park and shut off the engine with the agents nearly upon him.

Blazing spotlights blinded the deputy as he sat in the cab. He removed the keys from the ignition and raised his hands, then slowly opened the door and got out. Keeping his truck between himself and two of the SUVs, Kennesaw stepped behind the front fender and hood. The agents turned their spotlights on him. Kennesaw squinted in the blinding, searing light, as he waited for them to make the first move. He listened. Their engines churned, and steam floated up through the beams of their lights. He raised his hands. A door opened, and a silhouette emerged, aiming a handgun directly at him.

“I haven’t drawn my weapon!” Kennesaw shouted. His dash cam was uselessly aimed into the woods, but it was still recording sound. “You can see my hands! I am not resisting!”

The engines idled. The steam billowed. The flashers flashed, illuminating the trees in all directions. The door of the other Tahoe opened, and two more armed agents appeared.

“This is all being recorded!” continued the deputy. “My radio’s on as well. CCSD is listening in. They can hear everything.”

“DEA!” shouted the first agent as he approached the cruiser, pointing to his badge with one hand while holding his sidearm with the other. “Move the car out of the road!”

“I can’t do that!” Kennesaw shouted back.

“This is your last warning!” the man retorted. “Move the vehicle now! You are directly interfering with our operation. If you refuse to cooperate, you will face arrest for obstruction of justice!”

The deputy grinned. “Do your worst.”

The other two agents moved forward into the spotlight beams, their guns drawn. But before they could reach him, Kennesaw turned and hurled his keys into the trees. One agent ran to retrieve them, while the other circled around behind Kennesaw, pulled his hands down, pressed him over the hood, and cuffed him.

Oathkeeper

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Oathkeeper Chapter 23

Oathkeeper

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Chapter 23

 

The sky was overcast white. The storm front had passed through, but it was barely above freezing all day, and little of the remaining road snow had melted. The plows had been working through the night, making most of the roads passable. It would be in the sixties for the next few days, and almost all of the snow would be gone within a week. It was opportune that Kennesaw and the sheriff weren’t waiting another day to see Turcot. The mountain roads would be too muddy, impassable by then.

They weren’t long on the road before they noticed they were being tailed by a black Tahoe, but the vehicle broke off when Kennesaw pulled over a driver for speeding. When those matters were resolved, they meandered through the valley for an hour, while Kennesaw checked to make sure they weren’t being followed. At last, they turned west, heading for Mahonville Pass by the back roads. It was late afternoon when the deputy and sheriff finally reached the gate. It was normally closed until May, but Kennesaw got out and unlocked it, pulled the cruiser through, and locked it again behind him.

Upwards they drove, rising out of the budding cottonwoods and into the tall pines. The air cooled and the ice hardened on the road. Kennesaw had to stop so he and Bear could chain up the tires. Soon, they were approaching the summit. An icy mist descended on the cruiser as it skirted the face of a sheer thousand-foot wall of gray granite. The higher they climbed, the harder and colder the wind blew. Near the top of the mountain, the road was a mere channel cut through five feet of snow. In sixty days’ time, it would all be gone, melted off into the rivulets and creeks, trickling down into the alpine valleys and filling the streams that feed the Arkansas River. The river comes out of the mountains and runs east through Kansas, by then rolling slow. It bends south at Wichita, then deepens and broadens, finally becoming navigable at Tulsa and eventually feeding into the Mississippi. All grand waterways begin this way.

The sky was clear at the summit, but the sun was sinking and would be down in an hour. Before them, under the tree line, lay the Matchless Valley, rimmed on all sides by pure white mountains. Nestled in the basin before them lay a reservoir. Most of the ice had melted off and now reflected the dying golden sun, an oasis surrounded by a desert of ice.

Ellison and Kennesaw descended into wilderness, winding downwards out of the tundra and back into the pines. The snow was less than a third of what it was on the east side of the Continental Divide. The road leveled and straightened on the valley floor as the cruiser emerged from the trees, gaining speed until it came to a junction. Turning south would take them towards the college town of Gunnison. Kennesaw turned north instead, meandering along the Mahonville River. Its banks were crowded by budding bushes and scrub, which concealed the dark pools and shadows where trout lurk and rise to suck mosquitoes from the surface. Glancing out the window, the deputy accelerated to make up time. The orange sun had touched the blue peaks to the west, and the temperature was already dropping. The last stretch of road would be unplowed, and they didn’t want to be cutting a trail through it in the dark if that could be avoided. They turned again after four miles, crossing a one lane bridge over the river and winding back upwards into the trees. As expected, no plows had cleared the roads there. The sun had finally sunk behind Castle Peak to the west.

The road rose from the valley in a series of switchbacks, rising some five hundred feet above the floor. The cruiser passed a waterfall, splashing and roaring in the gray twilight as the basin passed out of view behind them. They turned up a goat trail road, identified only by the corner of a range fence. It too was unplowed, covered with half a foot of unblemished snow, with no tire tracks or footprints anywhere. Beyond the fence lay a flat, treeless swath, a snow covered pasture which had once been beaver ponds that had silted in decades before. The last leg of the journey was only a mile, but it took them ten minutes to drive it. The cruiser pulled up to the cabin just as the last light failed. The sky above was clear and pristine. The stars had awakened – shimmering crystals affixed to the Prussian blue sky.

“Where is he?” Bear asked as Kennesaw shut off the engine.

“Maybe he left.”

The men looked at each other, each knowing the other was contemplating Turcot’s role in Stern’s murder. It was impossible, they knew, but they had to make sure all the same. Both got out of the cruiser and walked up to the cabin door. Bear stepped forward and knocked. No one answered. Kennesaw reached out and turned the knob, then pushed gently. The door creaked as it swung inward.

“Monte?” Bear announced, making his presence known. “Are you in here?”

There was no response from inside. It was dark, but warm.

The sheriff looked at Kennesaw, who shrugged his shoulders. “Monte, it’s Sheriff Ellison. I’m here with Deputy Kennesaw. Are you all right? We came to check on you.”

Something shuffled inside in the darkness. Both men reached down towards their holsters.

“It’s just me,” a voice called out. “Come in.”

“Is that you, Monte? Mind turning on some light?” Bear exclaimed.

“Hang on. I’ll turn up the lantern.”

Footsteps. Fumbling. A lantern hissed, and a yellow glow brightened the interior. Monte Turcot stood before them. He had grown a beard again.

“Evening,” he said, and brushed a few strands of matted hair out of his face.

“How are you?” asked the sheriff.

“I’m good.”

“What are you doing sitting here in the dark?” Kennesaw inquired as he closed the door behind them.

“I was just sitting here, waiting for the sun to go down, and I guess I fell asleep.”

“You didn’t hear us drive up?”

“I must have been out.”

“Your fire’s getting low,” the deputy observed. He stepped over to the stove, took a knee, and twisted the lever to open the steel door. The coals glowed orange with the burst of oxygen. Kennesaw pushed two splits of dried, gray aspen into the firebox and left the door cracked so the flames could breathe.

“So what can I do for you gentlemen?” Turcot asked. “Did you finally come to take me in?”

“Why would you think that?” asked the sheriff.

“Because there’s two of you.”

The stove flared to life as the splits caught and began to burn.

“You guys want some coffee?” Turcot pointed over his shoulder. “It’s instant. That okay?”

“Sure,” answered the sheriff. Turcot went to the cupboards and removed a steel kettle. Two five gallon jugs rested on the counter, one with its spout over a basin. He filled the kettle there, then brought it over to the stove and set it on top. Water droplets sizzled on the hot metal surface as Turcot returned to the cupboard and produced three plastic coffee mugs. He rinsed a spoon off under the spigot of the water jug, then unscrewed the lid on a jar of instant coffee.

Bear looked at Kennesaw, then turned back to Turcot. “Monte…”

“Yes Sheriff?” Turcot answered as he spooned coffee into the mugs.

“Have you been in contact with anyone?”

“I don’t get a lot of visitors up here, Sheriff.”

“Yeah,” Bear replied, “I guess I’d be surprised if you got any other than us. But you do have the radio.”

“I don’t listen to it much.”

“You ever run out of anything?” Kennesaw cut in. “Now that the pass is open, we can come up here every couple days.”

“I’m good,” said Turcot. “I’ve got plenty to eat. I’ve got T.P., water, gasoline for the generator. It’s plenty warm in here when that stove gets going, even when it gets down below zero outside. I’m assuming that the bitter cold is behind us, now.”

The deputy nodded.

“I’d like to have my truck. Could you maybe drive that up for me? It’d be nice to be able to go for a drive or go down to the lake or maybe Gunnison and see some human faces. I’ll be careful.”

“We’re not holding you, Monte. You can leave whenever you like,” Bear explained. “But I can’t protect you everywhere, especially outside the county.”

“I don’t figure you could really protect me in the county if they knew where I was.”

“I’ll do everything I can. You have my word.”

Turcot sighed. “I’m just getting cabin fever. I don’t know what’s going on.”

“You need to contact anyone?” Ellison asked.

“I should talk to my lawyer. Can you make that happen?”

The kettle began to spit steam.

“That’s not gonna be possible, Monte,” Bear said.

Turcot screwed the lid back onto the jar and set the spoon in the sink, looking resigned to his continued isolation. “Why’s that?”

Kennesaw took off his gloves and stuck them in his coat pockets, then began warming his hands at the door of the stove. He pulled the kettle off the center of the top to slow the boil. Ellison stood between them both.

“When was the last time you spoke to Stern?” the sheriff asked.

“Not since I’ve been up here.”

“Do you remember talking to him about anything not directly related to your case?”

“Like what?”

“Did he mention anything you found peculiar?”

“He said he likes the Jets. He wants them to draft that QB from Virginia.”

“You found that peculiar?” inquired Kennesaw.

“I guess I figured him for a Giants fan.”

“Did he ever mention that he was concerned or fearful?” continued the deputy.

“No. He isn’t afraid, just a little paranoid.”

“What’s the difference?” Bear asked.

“You know…‘afraid’ would be like a fear that something specific is going to happen. ‘Paranoid’ is vague,” Turcot explained. “Stern has this cloud that hangs over him. He talks about how he worries that he can’t control everything.”

“So what made you think Stern was paranoid?”

“He records everything, every conversation with everyone. He talked about being listened to all the time. One time, he told me that his email was hacked.”

“By who?” asked the sheriff.

“NSA. DEA. FBI.” Turcot shrugged. “He’s convinced that the DA is doing it, too.”

“Did he say what made him think that?”

“He said he felt like the prosecution was one step ahead of him – that they knew what his motions were before he even made them. He said it was like they knew what he was going to do before he did it. He said the only way they could know what they knew is if they’d read his emails or tapped his phone.”

“Anything else?”

“He asked me once about getting a gun.”

“Did he?” Bear asked. “I mean, did he ever purchase one?”

“No,” said Turcot. “Not to my knowledge anyway.”

The boiling water gurgled in the teapot.

“Did he mention anyone out of the ordinary? Anyone that he was concerned about?”

“No. Yes. He told me that he was approached once; this guy showed up while he was at the Wagon Wheel and told him that he should really lose my case.”

“He was being threatened?”

“Sounded like a threat to me, or maybe just a drunk talking trash.”

“Did he tell you anything about this person?”

Turcot’s eyes went blank. “I’ve said too much, really. He told me this in confidence.”

“Monte,” Kennesaw spoke up, “If you can’t trust us, then what are you doing here?”

Turcot fumbled around with the spigot for a moment, then continued. “He said that the DA didn’t know that he knew they were spying on him.”

“When did he tell you this? During the trial?”

“Before the trial. We talked every day. When he would visit, we would chat about the case, but then he’d hand me a notepad with what he really wanted to say. We’d have one speaking conversation while we’d write down another.”

“What sorts of things did he write down?”

“That’s between me and my lawyer.”

“I mean, did he write down anything about his situation, anything not specific to your case?”

“No. Just the case.”

“Is there anything else you can tell us?”

“Yeah. He said he has a file that he’s saving for a rainy day. He keeps a copy of it on his phone….” Turcot studied the sheriff and Kennesaw for a moment. “Something’s happened to him, hasn’t it?”

The two men looked at each other. Bear turned back to Turcot, clearing his throat and preparing to speak.

The kettle whistled.

Turcot’s eyes darted between Ellison and Kennesaw. Kennesaw lifted the kettle off the stove. The whistling died.

“He’s dead, isn’t he?” Turcot asked.

“Yes.” Bear took a deep breath.

“Fuck me!” Turcot shouted, slamming his fist against the table as he leapt to his feet. “Well, I can tell you who did it! Acevedo! He had one of his goons do it!”

“That’s quite an accusation,” remarked Kennesaw calmly.

“Oh is it?” Turcot whirled to face the deputy. “You don’t think Acevedo has people? You’re naive, man! He’s got junkies, tweakers, snitches, dealers that he owns! He could easily extort one into doing it by threatening them with prison. They’re going to kill me! I’m a dead man.”

“Calm down, Monte,” Bear advised. “Try to think of anything else you remember Stern telling you.”

“I can’t think of anything else now except that I’ve got to get the hell out of here,” growled Turcot. “They’re going to find me here, and they’re going to kill me. They’ll do it here or in custody or anywhere. They’ll do it. I’ve got to go. I’ve got to get as far away from here as I can.”

“They’ll find you if you run,” said the sheriff. “You’ll be in public. People will see you.”

Turcot threw up his hands. “What am I supposed to do? I can’t leave. They’re coming. I can feel it.”

Oathkeeper

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