CHAPTER SEVEN

Friday, January 5

The next morning, Coal stumbled down the stairs, hardly able to focus his eyes. He had stayed up with the kids as long as Connie would allow them to stay up, then put Sissy to bed with the same ritual as the night before, which took a little of his all-important time, sure, but the feeling of which he cherished. His guts told him that girl had been rescued from a life of certain doom in just enough time that, here at the Savages, she might grow up to lead a normal life. Every time he thought about it, it filled his heart with warmth.

After Sissy was asleep, and the other kids were all down as well, he had sat in front of the fire and played the guitar and sang—which was what he had been doing for an hour before, at the insistence of the twins. He had a large enough repertoire to keep Connie from inserting any nosy questions between songs.

Now, in the darkness of dawn, he was paying for his late night. Connie was apparently out with the horses, assuming she had risen at her usual hour. He wasn’t feeling it, but he also wasn’t feeling a desire to get fat, so he went downstairs and did a heavy workout for almost an hour, then came back up to the aroma of bacon and eggs.

The kids still had half an hour of sleep left to go as he showered, dressed, and came in to find six eggs and several strips of bacon on his plate. He sat down to it, still feeling groggy, but at least awake enough to thank Connie. He probably shouldn’t have, though, because the sound of his voice seemed to wake a sleeping giant.

“So how did things go at work yesterday, Son?”

“Fine. Lots of paperwork.”

“Is it okay if I ask about Ray?”

He looked up, gnawing a piece of nearly cooked bacon in half, and let out a sigh. “Well, I don’t know. Fine, I guess. He seems pretty down, but I guess that’s what you’d expect.”

“Is his brother still in the hospital?”

“Nope. We’ve got him at the jail now. And I have to tell you, that man is pure evil. If I had somebody come up wanting a tour of the jail, I’d have to tell them to wait ’til he’s gone. The whole place feels dark.”

Connie shook her head, looking away for a moment to take a waffle out of the iron. Those were for the kids. She knew Coal’s love-hate relationship with waffles and pancakes and tried not to tempt him because it didn’t take much to make him cave in and ruin his normally dedicated regime.

She started humming a seemingly innocent tune, and Coal cringed. Humming meant his mother’s mind was furiously spinning. He turned and looked at the stairs. Did he have time to escape?

“Hey, Coal?”

Nope.

“Yeah?”

“So I don’t want to butt into your business, but did you remember to call Maura?”

He wanted to laugh out loud. She didn’t want to butt into his business? Since when!

“I didn’t call her, but I went down to see her at the store.”

“Oh, good! How did it go?”

“Well, I bought a new shirt.”

“What?”

“Mom, Jordan walked in less than twenty seconds after me and took her to lunch. That’s how my visit went. I stayed and let Florin Beller sell me a new shirt—which, by the way, I think you’d really like—and then I left.”

Connie stood and digested the news for a moment, sliding some fried eggs onto a plate and glancing at the clock. Her face said she wanted in the worst way to say something, but for once maybe she really couldn’t think of anything.

Coal stood up. “I’ll go wake the kids up and send them in.”

“Wait. Coal?” He turned. “Don’t shut down and give up on her. You trust me, right?”

“Mom. This isn’t a question of trust. Some things just aren’t meant to be. Leave it alone, all right?”

“But—”

“Just leave it alone.”

He turned and went down the hall to knock on Katie and Cynthia’s door. After he had them waking up, he went up to the boys’ rooms. Connie was smart enough not to follow.

*          *          *

  Coal brought in breakfast from the Coffee Shop and took it to the Medina brothers, then was glad to vacate the cell block. He hated the evil feeling back there and truly wished they had had some big charge waiting for Angel in Vegas so they would extradite him and Lemhi County wouldn’t have to deal with him. But he had a fistful of charges here, including the murder of Drew Runnigan, so here he would remain. He was going to cost the county a lot of money before all was said and done.

The phone rang, and Coal looked at it distractedly. He wondered if he could take up meditation and it would make him hate the sound of a ringing phone less. As it was, he often felt like drawing his gun and blasting it off the desk.

On the fifth ring, he answered.

Hi, Coal. In his head he swore.

“Hello, Maura.” For a while he had been thinking Angel Medina was the last person he would like to talk to. Now he stood corrected.

How are things? she asked.

Stop it with the damn small talk, woman! What do you want? Of course he didn’t say anything of the kind out loud.

“Oh, all right. Busy as usual.” In lawyer-speak, that was called building a case—a set up in case she had any foolish suggestions.

Do you think you might have some time today?

He took a deep breath and bulled forward, glad for that case he had started building. “That’s a tough one. I have to meet the county prosecutor over lunch to discuss the case on this Angel Medina and figure out what the plan is for Ray,” he lied. He hadn’t even met the prosecutor yet.

Oh. Well . . . What’s your schedule like for tonight?

He disgusted himself with the sadistic delight he took in saying, “Virgil and I will be packing up for a trip out of town.”

After a pause: Oh, really?

“Yeah. I’m trying to decide where to go with him. Probably Missoula.”

That should be fun. Now her voice sounded almost listless. It certainly lacked its normal sass and spunk. He almost felt bad. Coal, I’d really like to talk to you.

This was the opening where Coal could stop being stubborn, cave in, and blurt out that he wanted her, he thought he might be in love with her, at least a little bit, and that he couldn’t live without her. His mother would be so dang proud of him.

“Is everything okay?” was all he could muster up.

Well, yeah, I guess. Sure.

“Oh. Okay, well, yeah, we can talk sometime. I’ll give you a holler whenever things slow down.” Which as he was learning, in Lemhi County sheriff-speak meant just about never.

After they hung up, he didn’t go back to work. He couldn’t. Instead, he just sat there staring at the phone. He had sure shown Maura PlentyWounds what his priorities were. Maybe now she would quit bothering him. He stared at the phone some more. What were his priorities again?

At last, with a heavy sigh, he looked up the prosecutor’s number and dialed it.

A light, almost nasally voice came on the other end. Fica.

“Yeah, is this the prosecutor’s office?”

Oh yeah, sorry—Fica. Prosecutor’s office. A rollicking laugh followed, as close to a jolly laugh as anything Coal could think of. I always forget to say that part. Can I help you?

Coal wasn’t sure how to take the man behind this voice and laugh. “This is Sheriff Savage, downstairs. I had a note on the desk to call you—about the Medina case?”

Oh! Well, if you have some time we could talk right now.

“Sure you’re not too busy?”

Again, the jolly laugh. Ha! I’m always too busy. Seriously, come on up, Sheriff. For you, I’ll make time.

Coal downed the last of his coffee, cold as it always was by the last inch. He braved a burst of frigidity to get from his door to the courthouse door and ascended the stairs to the prosecutor’s office. Painted on the door in black letters, it said Prosecutor M. Fica, something any responsible sheriff who knew his job should have long since had occasion to see—explaining why Coal hadn’t.

When he stepped inside the inner office, there was no one sitting behind a desk he assumed belonged to a receptionist—typical business in this town. He knocked on a tinted glass door that bore the legend of Prosecutor on a brass plate above it.

“Come on in!”

One step into the office, Coal stopped. Behind a desk nearly buried in stacks of open and unopen books, papers, paper weights, and manila folders, sat a man of massive proportions, not massive like Bigfoot Monahan was massive, or even big like Coal, but . . . big. At a glance, the man would go close to four hundred pounds. He wore a black and red striped tie that was very loose, despite the massive size of his neck, and askew on the front of his shirt. Thin, short-cropped honey-colored hair was plastered over to one side on top, and his rosy, rotund cheeks created a picture for Coal to match the word “jolly” that came to mind when Prosecutor Fica laughed.

The man was speaking to someone on the phone, so he held up a hand to Coal as if to tell him, “Just a minute.” Coal nodded and scanned the room. There were bookshelves full of law books mated without any concept of organization with books on travel, and even a few novels—Animal Farm jumped to the forefront because it lay on its side atop a self-important row of black and gold tomes of law. A radio and cassette player sat on an otherwise nearly empty bookcase behind the man’s right shoulder, and other shelves were cluttered with all kinds of relics and collectibles, things like whiskey bottles and wine decanters, and trophies which, whether important or not made up for it in sheer volume. Different plaques and certificates in frames decorated the white walls in no particular design, and there were bits of paper cluttering the floor here and there, as if a mouse had been chewing through paperwork and housekeeping had been banned.

In spite of concentrating on all these other important images, Coal couldn’t help but hear the prosecutor’s side of the phone conversation. He was amazed at the profanity that came out of this fellow’s mouth, but for some reason it didn’t come across as offensive as it might have.

Finally, Fica hung up the phone and lurched upright, an act he seemed to do with surprising ease, despite his size. He exploded a hand across his cluttered desk. “Hi! Mike Fica. Sorry about all this damn mess,” he said with a laugh. “I keep thinking I’ll clean it up, and then I keep not doing it.” This time the high-pitched laugh was almost a roar.

Coal couldn’t help but laugh as well as they shook hands. “Don’t worry about it. Sheriff Savage.”

“Coal, right?” Coal looked into the man’s eyes as they maintained their grip. There was something genuine in this man’s gaze he couldn’t help but like on the instant.

“Yeah, that’s right: Coal.”

“You’re a hell of a legend in this valley, man! Hey! Sorry, why don’t you have a seat?”

Coal looked down at the padded seat of the wooden chair in front of Fica’s desk. There was a book sitting there, face up. On the cover, above a smiling image of “Mr. Rogers,” it read Mister Rogers Songbook.

Coal returned his eyes to Fica, who realized something was wrong and leaned forward to peer over the desk. “Oh! Sorry. Just throw that up here, would you?”

Trying to hide a smile, Coal picked up the songbook and handed it across to the attorney. “Mister Rogers Songbook?”

Fica gave his laugh again, acting only slightly embarrassed. “I know—funny, huh? Sorry, but I’m a bit of a fan.”

Coal shrugged. “Hey, somebody has to be.”

After making sure there weren’t any more surprises on the chair, Coal plopped down.

“Why don’t you tell me what’s up, Coal?”

“Well, I thought you called—about the Medina brothers?”

“No, I didn’t call. When you said that, I had no idea what you were talking about.” Fica giggled.

Coal digested this news for a moment. “Huh. Well, all I know is there was a note on my desk telling me to call you about the Medinas.”

“Oh. That was probably my deputy attorney, Bryan Wheat.”

“Great. Anyway, I’ve got a couple of men in my jail you’re going to have a chance to meet pretty soon. The Medina brothers? However the note got on my desk, since we’re probably going to end up in court with them, we’d probably better start looking into their case as soon as possible. And I want to apologize for not coming up to introduce myself to you sooner.”

“Well, hey now. Don’t even think twice about that, bud. I’ve followed everything you’ve been going through since you came to town. I don’t know how you get it all done. No worry. I knew we’d eventually get together.”

So they sat and talked about the Medinas, and now and then Mike Fica took an unofficial moment out simply to talk about life. The biggest thing Coal took away from his visit with the county prosecutor wasn’t his impression of the man’s uncommon size or his cluttered office. It wasn’t even his impression of Fica’s disrupted, disheveled, disorganized look or his relaxed use of sailors’ language. What he took away from that office was how likeable that man was—something he didn’t expect out of a man who prosecuted criminals for a living.

Before Coal’s departure, they shook hands again, and Fica said, “We’ll be in touch. You might also get a call from Bryan. You’ll like him. He might not be quite as . . . lively as I am, but he’s a good kid—sharp as a whip.”

After work that evening, Coal was packing up anything he thought he might need for his trip. He looked in on Virgil to make sure he was doing the same, and although he was, he didn’t seem too enthusiastic about it. Coal prayed he could change that before this trip was over. Virgil was proving to be a hard nut to crack.

When he tired of packing his duffel bag, Coal went downstairs to take the dogs out. As he hit the living room floor, he startled Connie, who was on the phone. She turned away from him and lowered her voice.

Figuring she was in the middle of a conversation about him, he stepped past her and called the dogs. The last thing he wanted to know was what match his mother was making tonight.

Saturday, January 6

In the morning, Coal rolled out of bed at six and got his workout in, then showered and ate breakfast with a very sleepy looking Virgil as the other children slept on. He would have liked to tell them all goodbye, but he had done that the night before, and he knew how much they liked their Saturday mornings in bed.

He and Virgil were heading for the front door when the phone rang, and Coal cringed. He paused for a second, out of habit, as Connie hurried across the room and picked it up. Then he nudged Virgil toward the door. Instinct told him to get going.

Virgil had just opened the door when Connie called out: “Coal! Wait.” She was holding up a finger to him.

He gave her an impatient look, figuring it was just Maura and that Connie must have convinced her to make this call. “What? Mom, we’ve got to get on the road.”

“But, Coal, it’s long distance. I think you should take it.” She had her hand over the transmitter.

He stared at her, trying to change gears and wrap his mind around the fact that it wasn’t Maura. He turned and looked at Virgil. He had promised him this weekend was just for them. NO. He was not going to mess this up. He shook his head apologetically and made a kissy face at his mom, then stepped outside into a day that felt cold enough to be the inside of a snowman and shut the door.

He and Virgil were going to Montana, and nothing was going to stop them.