hartley-stevens

Tales of Cable County Short – Featuring Blue

I could see the smoke as I rounded the after-season peanut field. A dirt two-track road lead up to a bonfire openly blazing in the middle of the afternoon. Several assorted-brand pickup trucks were circled a fair distance from the fire.

I pulled up close to the circled vehicles and let the dust catch up and blow over the Cable Department of Law Enforcement SUV. “Dispatch, Agent 168.”

“Dispatch. Go ahead Blue.”

“I’m out at Harvey Miller’s farm. Got about a dozen locals out here burning something big out in the middle of a peanut field. I don’t really know the code for what I’m thinking this is, but you better go ahead and send me some backup.”

“Roger that 168. It’ll take a few minutes to get somebody over there.”

“No problem. Thanks, Dispatch.”

I checked my Glock, looked over at the shotgun, but decided to leave it. I hopped out and walked toward the group of men standing around the rear of one of the trucks. A couple of them were holding shotguns. I wondered about the decision to leave mine behind.

Most of the men were sporting cans of beer or red Solo cups. Great. Harvey Miller, a weathered farmer of some success was sitting on the tailgate of his truck, leaning back against a Yeti cooler. Maybe he was having more success than I thought. I looked over at the fire. It was bigger than I’d first thought and was billowing white smoke with an acrid smell. Fifty yards from the fire were several two-post signs about the size of a piece of uncut plywood. This was a very strange site out in the middle of a field.

I walked into the ring. “Mr. Miller.” We knew each other, to say hello to.

“Blue.”

“What’cha burning?”

He was a direct man. “Political signs.”

Political signs were the flimsy detritus that littered the roadways every seasonal election cycle. Some were as small as a realtor sign, some were a quarter billboard. To me they all looked like trash.

“Where’d you get ‘em?”

All the men seemed to smile. Mr. Miller said, “Off the side of the roads. Took us all last night and most of the morning. But, I reckon you might’ve had a hint about that or you wouldn’t be here.”

I looked out at the signs in the field and pointed. “And those?”

“Same, just the bigger ones with faces. We been using those for target practice.”

“Any particular signs?”

“Nope. We don’t discriminate. We’re burning and shootin’ the Democrats and the Republicans.”

This got a whoop of laughter from the crowd. Several of the men bumped cups or cans. Some got refills. Someone said, “Light ‘em all up.” To which the crowd all conveyed a general idea of “Hell Yeah!”

Even with all the guns, which now I realized every single man was holding or packing, they didn’t seem like a threat. This was just some kind of weird country-boy party. I recognized most of the men, knew a few names. “Mr. Miller, this might seem like an obvious question to you, and I don’t mean any disrespect; but why the hell are you burning and shooting up these signs?”

Everyone got a kick out of that. I’m afraid I might’ve had smile on my face as well.

He said, “Well, Blue, they’re just all low-down, scum-sucking liars. None of ‘em seem able to get a damn thing done but throw dirt and mud at each other. And we’re just sick and fed up with the bullshit. I can’t stand to see their damn signs on the side of the road trashing up all of Cable.”

This was a very different type of interview. I wasn’t used to the candor. “I appreciate your honesty Mr. Miller. But, you do know it’s illegal, what you’re doing?”

“I don’t see it that way, Blue. Somebody throws trash in my yard, I got to clean it up.”

“True. But. Side-of-the-road, isn’t your yard.”

“I pay taxes. A whole heap of taxes. It’s partly mine. As it is for the rest of these men.”

I keyed the mic clipped to my lapel. “Dispatch, Agent 168, I need a fire truck.”

Dispatch came back, “Already on the way Blue.”

“Thanks Dispatch.”

Mr. Miller pointed at the sky where we could all see the first doves of the afternoon arriving. He said to me, “We’re planning a dove shoot, Blue. The birds are beginning to come in.”

I looked out to the field of shot up signs. “Might have to delay the shoot Mr. Miller. We’re gonna have to settle some things about these signs.”

Grumbling ensued from the group of men. From the same direction I’d come, a bloom of dust was heading our way. I assumed this was my backup. Mr. Miller pointed over to another truck some ways away. “You boys go on over and decide where everyone will set up for the birds. Let me have some words with the Cable law.”

I got a lot of stink-eye and more grumbled sideway glances as the pack refilled their Solo cups and grabbed cans from the Yeti. The dust from the approaching vehicle was coming too big and too fast. I keyed the mic. “Dispatch, who you got coming on that backup?”

“Blue, we got Agent 627 and two deputies from Levy. They’re still ten minutes out. You okay?”

“Roger that Dispatch. Just checking.”

The gang of country boys had moved over to one of the other trucks. It was just me and Mr. Harvey Miller. He said, “That cloud of dust, that’s some of your fellow law enforcers?”

The vehicle was close. We could both see it wasn’t topped with light bars. It was a shiny new-looking Cadillac SUV. I rubbed at my face. “My folks are coming; they’ll be right along. I reckon we both know who that probably is.”

He smiled over at me. “At least it ain’t a big black four-wheel drive RAM.”

I grinned back with clenched teeth. “You might be sorry you said that by the end of the day.”

He smacked at his knee. “Aw, come on now Blue, you know I was just funnin’.”

I pushed the Maui Jim sunglasses up above my eyes. “I don’t think Cloud would think is was funny. I damn sure don’t.”

His smirk slowly evaporated and he removed his cap and rubbed his face with a red handkerchief. “You’re right. That wasn’t gentlemanly. I apologize.”

I looked at him a moment, then flexed my ears, letting the sunglasses settle back over my eyes. “Please sit here for a moment and tell your boys to stay where they are. Let me see about our visitor.”

He complied as the Cadillac swerved into the edge of trucks with a little too much drama and dust. I keyed the mic two times, then two more. It was an officer-needs-assistance code.

 

***

 

All four doors of the Cadillac opened at once and one small man erupted from the passenger side as three other towering fellows unfolded from the rear seats.

Avery Swallows looked out at the field. The image of his face was still partially intact on some of the signs sitting some distance away. Avery was an asshole, a lawyer. I’d recently wondered if the terms weren’t synonyms. He was also running for county commissioner for the Cable version of Deadwood. He strode around the SUV and crossed his arms as I approached.

Again, I keyed the mic two times. “Mr. Swallows…”

His three fellows all wore dark shades and had pistols under their suits.

Avery said, “Who are you?”

As professional as possible I proffered a card. “Cable Agent Sara Tableau.”

He tossed the card on the ground without looking at it. “This man, this hillbilly redneck.” He pointed at Mr. Miller. “He and his band of miscreants stole more than a hundred of my signs this past night. I’m sure even you see the evidence in that fire.”

I looked over at the three fellows who were laying hard eyes on the crowd of country boys. Way too many guns.

I keyed the mic on my lapel. “Dispatch, 168 – 911.”

I said, “Mr. Swallows… I need for you and your friends to return to your vehicle. I’m conducting…”

He cut me off. “You – Ms. Over-Your-Pretty-Head – are about to get into the middle of something you can’t control. Moments from now you’ll be grateful I’ve chosen to appear.”

Mr. Harvey Miller could hear everything from the tailgate. He laughed a little too loud. One of the gang of country boys threw something towards the fire and the flames shot high but with no sound.

I turned and yelled back to Harvey Miller. “Mr. Miller have you invited these men onto your property?”

He raised the shotgun beside him and let the butt sit on the tailgate, the barrel pointed at the sky. “Hell no. Avery Swallows is carpetbagger slime, and a lying lawyer to boot. I’d never have such filth on my land.”

I turned back. “Mr. Swallows, you are trespassing. I’ll ask again for you and your friends to return to your vehicle and vacate the premises.”

Avery Swallows shook his head and pushed his hands back so I could see the glint of pistol under his arm. “I know this is Florida, but even you bunch of rednecks can see progress is coming whether you like it or not.”

A wave of doves flew overhead. A single shotgun boomed. Every grip tensed on hardware. I didn’t draw but my hand was steady on the Glock. I looked over at Mr. Miller. “Shut it down Harvey, right fucking now.”

Harvey Miller waved.

I said, “Mr. Swallows, for the last time, I’m directing you to return to your vehicle.”

I could practically hear Avery Swallows considering the possibilities. His gears were grinding and his balls were seizing. He had his eyes on bigger electoral prizes. If word got out, which it surely would, that he dropped trowel in such a moment, well, he’d be considered a political eunuch.

He kept his hand on the weapon under his arm. I knew what kind of man, or lack thereof, he was. “Mr. Swallows, remove your hand from your weapon. That goes for all of you men in suits next to the Cadillac.”

Avery Swallows eyes blinked. “I won’t. I won’t allow some country female deputy to give me orders.”

I looked toward the horizon and saw no dust. The Calvary might be coming, but no matter what, I was gonna have to move before they got here. “You men by the SUV. Hands in the air, take two steps back and lay face down on the ground. Avery Swallows… you are under arrest, for failure to comply with a lawful order. Do not move your hands. Lay on the ground in front of you.”

He thought for a moment, looked over his shoulder at his own men, then back at me. “You corn pone…”

I covered the distance between us while folding the Maui Jims into my breast pocket. “Avery Swallows, you have been warned. Get on the ground.”

“I’m going to be the Governor in two years. Consider your position.”

“Considered and rejected. Get on the ground.” I continued walking towards him. The men around the SUV stood still.

I was within ten yards. He said, “I’ll have your badge, forever.”

I never broke stride. “You’ll have it up your ass in the next second if you don’t lay in the dirt.”

He fumbled with words, “I’ll… I’ll… I, you fucking bitch.”

I shucked the collapsible wand and slung it out true. “Avery Swallows… you are under arrest.”

I looked into his eyes. He was not a man. Yet, he did move his hand just so. I dropped the wand and plowed into him. On the ground, I mashed his face into the dusty ground. I grabbed his gun with one hand and slung it out to the side. With practice, I wrenched his arms behind him and bound his hands with the plastic cuffs.

Without thinking I jumped up, grabbed the wand and ran to the biggest of the men near the Cadillac. The man threw his hands in the air. I said, “On the ground.” He complied.

I looked at his two compadres. “You too. On the ground.” They complied.

I cinched plastic cuffs on all.

I turned to Mr. Miller, who had a big spread of smile working. “Harvey Miller… you are under arrest, for destruction of private property. Get on the ground.”

Miller’s band of country boys had converged. I turned to face the twelve of them. “All of you. Every damn dick swinger. Throw out your weapons and fall flat to the dirt.”

There were murmurs, looks of confusion. I felt rage leaking from around my eye. “Don’t make me ask again. Face in the dirt, all of you.”

I had to go back to my vehicle to get more cuffs, but by the time the fire truck arrived, which preceded my backup… sixteen men lay face down in the peanut field.

 

***

 

The fire captain was somebody I knew. “What the fuck, Blue?”

“You gonna hose that down?”

“No. Procedure says we let it burn.”

Later, as we loaded the men into a prison bus I took Mr. Miller to the side. “Was it worth it?”

With dirty sand covering one side of his face he said, “Oh, hell yeah. This was just what I was hoping for. I hate those damn signs.”

I moved his arms towards the bus. “I reckon you’re just about right. I hate ‘em too.”

 

The End