WELCOME TO PICKETWIRE
A serialized story
by tim wintermute
Click here for previous installments
But why did Wylie want the books? Were they like Rosebud, the childhood sled in Citizen Kane, the explanation for his behavior over the years? Why did Harry even care why? It was enough that Wylie wanted them and couldn’t have them. Just like he had wanted Pam, but couldn’t have her. Harry smiled. Not only had she said no to Wylie she’d said yes to him. The bell over the door rang, ringing Harry out his reverie. It was Howdy.
“What brings you here?” Harry asked Howdy. “Shouldn’t you be over at the Tumbleweed fine tuning your play for the premier on Saturday.”
“Nope,” Howdy answered, shaking his head. “I’m leaving the fine tuning to Max. I’m the designer of this theatrical vehicle not the mechanic. The test run is now in his hands. I’m just trying to get my mind off the whole damn thing.”
“So you decided to come over here to read a book or to talk? Of course, you’ll have to buy the book.”
“They do say talk is cheap.”
“Yeah, but they also say that time is money so spending time on cheap talk can add up.”
Howdy chuckled. “They could say we both have our heads up our aphorisms.” He took off his Stetson and placed it on the leaned checkout counter opposite Harry who was perched on the stool. “I was actually debating as to whether I should to get the hell out of town before the curtain goes up. Joseph Campbell said that the great monomyth is the hero going on a journey, but what about the antiheroes who go on a journey before the shit hits the fan?”
“You’re afraid that’s what’s going to happen?”
“I’m afraid that it won’t happen,” Howdy grimaced.
“You don’t want people to like your play?”
“Oh sure, except for the one person who should hate it.”
“You mean Wylie Boone. From what you’ve told me he’ll hate it.”
“But, the problem is, he has to be there and he hasn’t bought a ticket.”
“Maybe he doesn’t want to attend the premiere and will come later.”
“Later is too late because the reviews will be out and he’ll know what’s in it.”
“Yeah, I see your point,” Harry said. I wish I could help. I’d love to see him covered in shit. In fact, I’d send a personal invitation. Unfortunately, I’m on his own shit list since I just turned him down when he asked to buy some books that used to be in the Double B Library.”
“The ones you bought from Miss Bennett?”
Harry nodded. “He even said I could name my price.”
Howdy put his elbows on the counter and leaned toward Harry. “If we put our heads together we can come up with something.”
“Two heads are better than one,” Harry laughed. “We’re on an aphorism roll.”
“Rollercoaster, more like it,” Howdy said, standing up straight.
“So the question is how can we lure Wylie to the premier?” Harry went into a thinker’s pose with his right elbow on the counter and right hand supporting his chin. Suddenly he dropped the hand and announced. “Hey, that gives me a crazy idea. What if we can get Jemma Lu to invite him?”
Howdy rocked back on his high heeled cowboy boots in surprise. “Jemma Lu?”
“You do know that they were going to get married, don’t you?”
“Yeah, but she backed out of it.”
“That doesn’t mean he still doesn’t hold a torch for her and Wylie likes to play with fire.”
“Getting Wylie to accept the invitation is the easy part, but how in the hell can we get Jemma Lu to agree?” Howdy asked, scratching his forehead.
“Hey, my head came up with the idea, now it’s your head’s turn to figure out how to make it happen. Think like a playwright, what would Shakespeare come up with?”
“Okay, then how do we trick Jemma Lu into inviting Wylie?”
“I couldn’t trick Jemma Lu. A play is one thing but this is real life and…”
“Jemma Lu and I have gotten together a couple of times since I’ve been back…”
Harry laughed. “Why Howdy, you’re still holding your own torch for Jemma Lu.”
“It’s more like I’ve lit a match at this point.”
“I’ll say it’s a match. I always thought that you and Jemma Lu should be together.”
Howdy walked over to the table with the book display.
“Wait, did you and Jemma Lu have some secret thing going on?” Harry asked.
“If it’s a secret you know I can’t tell you. It’s off limits to trick Jemma Lu into inviting Wylie, but we can trick Wylie into thinking that she has.”
“Now that would be downright nasty of us,” Harry said with a grin.
“Couldn’t happen to a nastier guy.”
Howdy picked up one of the books from the display, then the one next to it. He held them up to Harry. “The way you display the books on this table makes no sense to me, but yet when I saw this book.” Howdy held up a copy of Pride and Prejudice. “I was also drawn to this other one.” He held up the copy of Lord of the Flies that was in his other hand. “Even though I’ve read them both and they don’t seem to have anything in common. Why do you think that is?”
“I don’t think, I know. It’s part of the Bunch book display system,” Harry replied with a proud smile.
“And how does this Bunch system of yours work?”
Harry laughed, “You and Amazon would both like to know and that’s why it’s a secret. I take it you aren’t going to buy them, though, since you’ve already read them.” Harry sighed. “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”
Howdy put the books back on the table in the same position as before. “This system of yours gives me an idea. We don’t invite Wylie directly we make him believe that he needs to be there to stop Jemma Lu from doing something.”
“What could she do at your premier that he would want to prevent?”
“She could say I do.”
“I do to what?”
“To my proposal at the premier after the shows over.”
“You’re going to propose … marriage?”
Howdy winked, “Wylie just needs to believe that I’m going to propose.”
“Got it,” Harry said, nodding his head. “Still, doesn’t he have to believe that Jemma Lu would accept your proposal?”
“Wylie will play the odds. The message he gets that says I’m going to propose just has to make him believe that there’s more than a fifty-fifty chance that Jemma Lu will accept.”
“Okay, but if I’m Wylie what’s in it for me if all I do is stop Jemma Lu from getting married? That doesn’t mean she’s going to turn around and marry me instead.”
“Wylie’s the kind of guy who believes that if he can’t have what he wants, nobody can, especially when that nobody is me. That’s what’s in it for him.”
“You’ve sold me on your idea,” Harry said. “Now, how are you going to get this message that he can’t ignore to Wylie?”
“That’s where you come in.”
“You send Wylie a book with a note from you that tells him I’m going to propose.”
“Why would he believe that I would do something like that?”
“Wylie knows you dislike him so he’ll figure you’re doing this to add insult to the injury you gave him when you wouldn’t sell him the books he wanted. It’s something he would do so he’ll probably even admire you for it. I’ll write out what you should put in the note.” Howdy took a small notebook from the breast pocket of his blue jean jacket and scribbled something on it, then handed it to Harry.
Harry looked at it, arching his right eyebrow than put it down on the counter. “Pretty good, but then you are the Sagebrush Shakespeare.”
“All we need now,” Howdy said. “Is a book that will go with that note. Something that will amplify the message so it sticks in Wylie’s craw.”
Harry walked around the counter and over to the display table. “I’ve got just the right one.” He handed Howdy a book.
Howdy read the title, “Wedding Etiquette by Emily Post,” He chuckled, “Now what are the chances that this very book would be on your display table?”
“No chance at all,” Harry replied.
A core principle in Sheriff Riggleman’s political creed was to never confess to making a mistake. People might forgive you but they wouldn’t vote for you. But that’s what he was about to do. Not only confess but his confessor would be a Nun not a priest. He had seen the light. It had appeared after the door of the windowless solitary confinement cell had slammed shut and he was locked inside. In the pitch black he felt a panic attack coming on as the memory of being locked in the root cellar of their sorry excuse for a farm when he was a small boy. Most of the time he didn’t even know why his Dad was punishing him. When he pulled the flashlight from his belt that also held a holstered gun and handcuffs his shaking hands lost their grip. The sound of the flashlight hitting the floor was like a stone hitting the bottom of a dry well. Riggleman got down on his knees and frantically tried to find the flashlight, cursing and wiping away tears. Suddenly a blinding light appeared. It was just like the light from the lamp he used during interrogations at the Sheriff’s Department only this time it wasn’t his voice demanding a confession from the squirming suspect.
“What did you confess to?” Sister M’s asked after listening to Riggleman. She’d heard jailhouse confessions before but never from a someone who put people behind bars.
“Nothing. He said - it was man’s voice…” He paused and looked up at Sister M’s. “I’m not saying God is a man.”
“That’s okay, I know she isn’t.”
“Anyway, he said he already knew all the execrable things I’d done in my life. I didn’t know what the word means but I figured it was pretty bad…”
“Detestable,” Sister M’s said.
“That bad, huh?” Riggleman nodded his head. “Well, who am I to argue with God, especially when I’m locked in a cell.”
“So you think God told you that you didn’t need to confess?”
“Not think, I know. Believe me, when God speaks you know. I mean, you’re a Nun so you know that.”
Yes, I should know, shouldn’t I, Sister M’s thought. “Who are you supposed to confess to?”
“To you, of course. That’s why I told you about the vision.”
“God said that after I confessed to you, then you would tell me what I had to do to atone for my execrable acts.”
“I’m not doubting that you had some sort of vision, Sheriff…”
“Call me Jesse.”
“Jesse,” Sister M’s repeated, more than willing to call him anything but Sheriff.
“It was a real vision from God. It was like in the Bible when Paul is blinded when he was on some road…”
“The Road to Damascus.”
“Right, that road. I know I wasn’t on a road but locked in a cell and I wasn’t blinded like him, but, then, he wasn’t wearing a pair of sunglasses.” Riggleman touched the pair of Ray Bans that one of his deputies had given him when he was released from the solitary confinement cell. “But God told Paul to stop prosecuting the Christians and he told me to stop prosecuting the illegals, only he called them undocumented immigrants.”
“Persecuting not prosecuting and it was Jesus who appeared in the Vision and he asked him why he was persecuting him.”
“Okay, so maybe it was Jesus who was in my vision. I only saw the light and heard the voice. He didn’t give his name.”
“It doesn’t matter. The voice told you that I would help you atone for persecuting the undocumented workers, is that what I’m hearing?”
Riggleman nodded and said, “Do you think that ordering my deputies to drop the search for the illegal, I mean undocumented, immigrants counts as atonement?”
“Atonement is not just refraining from doing bad deeds in the future, it’s also making amends for your past actions.”
“That’s why God said you’d help. I only know about sending people to jail.”
“There’s a fine line between punishment and penance.” Sister M’s explained that the first penitentiary was the Walnut Street Jail constructed in 1790 by Quakers in Philadelphia and was where inmates were confined to individual cells where they could reflect on their crimes. “It was supposed to encourage penance rather than inflicting punishment, reform rather than retribution.”
“They wanted criminals to have the same kind of vision I just had when I was locked up in that solitary confinement cell,” Riggleman said, pursing his lips and nodding his head.
“Not quite, Quakers believe that God appears as an inner light and speaks in a still, small voice.”
“Then I sure didn’t have any Quaker vision.”
More of a quaking experience, Sister M’s thought, noting that Riggleman’s hands were still shaking from his spiritual sound and light show. No, the Quaker experience was more like hers- sitting in her cell, in silence, inner eyes wide open, scanning the dark night of the soul for a faint glimmer from God.
“You are going to help me aren’t you? God told me you could help because you had some first-hand experience with this atonement business.”
How could Riggleman know that atoning for sending an innocent man to prison when she was a prosecutor in Chicago was why she had joined the Sisters of St. Leonard at Our Lady of Lost Souls and was providing free legal counsel to those in need? He couldn’t know. Sister M’s never told anyone except a priest when she had gone to confession at a Church near the Courthouse right after the incident. She didn’t even think the priest listened to her because he just told her to say an Our Father and three Hail Mary’s twice a day for a week, which was hardly penance for what she’d done. It was more like putting a bandage on a child’s knee for a minor scrape to make the kid feel better. The point wasn’t for her to feel better, it was to make things better for others. And that’s what a still, small voice told her after her confession. Riggleman wouldn’t know any of this. Was this proof that God had actually spoken to Riggleman, only in a loud voice? The answer was that it didn’t matter. Sister M’s knew what her answer should be. She said, softly, “Yes, I’ll help.”
“Riggleman wants to atone for persecuting the undocumented immigrants?” Sister Beatrice asked as if she couldn’t possibly have heard Sister M’s correctly.
“He claims he had a vision from God when he was locked up in the cell.”
“And you believe him?”
“Whether I believe him or not he believes he had a vision,” Sister M’s replied.
Sister Beatrice shook her head in amazement. “I wonder if I should add Riggleman’s claim to have had a vision to the historical placard outside the solitary confinement cells.”
“I don’t know that we want to promote his sainthood,” Sister M’s laughed. “Anyway, Riggleman and I agree that his vision should be kept a secret. It would eliminate the element of surprise, which is necessary for the atonement plan to work.”
“You’ve already got a plan?”
“It just came to me all at once and when I shared it with Riggleman, he agreed to it.”
“Sounds like you had a vision of your own.”
“This is some stove,” Margaret said, gliding her right hand over the top of the massive Vulcan in Sue’s kitchen.
“To me it’s part of the furniture,” Sue replied. A really, really big part, since the six burner, two oven commercial stove took up as much space as a sofa, which she didn’t have in her combination kitchen-dining-living room and, if you counted the fact that her bed was in an alcove, bedroom.
“I could get turned on by this.”
Sue patted the stove. “Although me and Vulcan have had a long relationship, it’s been platonic.”
Margaret laughed and then sipped from the glass of the Malbec that Sue had poured for each of them. “Seriously, my tastebuds are blooming just looking at this stove.”
Sue turned the flame down under a pot. “I hope they don’t wither when they get a taste of this chili. It might be too hot for you.”
“Just because I’m from Minnesota doesn’t mean I don’t like hot food. I love Indian food and it’s spicy.”
“I’m using organic chili peppers from Joji’s farm. I thought we should taste some of the food we’ll be growing.” She dipped a spoon into the pot and held it out to Margaret, who opened her mouth and let the chili slide in. “If it’s good we could add it to the menu at the Pretty Good and we could grow the chili peppers on our farm.”
“Whoa, pardner,” Margaret rasped after swallowing the chili.
“Too hot?” Margaret said with alarm.
“It’s definitely a five alarm chili but I can douse the flames with some more of this,” Margaret said, holding up her glass of wine.
Margaret sat down at the combination kitchen and dining room table that was a match in wood for the steel Vulcan. Sue ladled chili into two bowls, then sat down opposite Margaret and asked, “Now, what is it you wanted to tell me?”
“You know how Wylie Boone wanted to buy Uncle Arvid’s shares in the Picketwire Ditch Company?”
“They’re your shares now.” Sue reminded Margaret, scooped chili from her bowl and carefully put the spoon into her mouth. It was pretty good. With some tweaks it would be good enough for the Cafe.
Margeret put her own spoon down and said, “Okay, I found out yesterday that the reason he wants to buy MY SHARES is because he’s been stealing water from the Ditch.” She picked up her glass of wine and took a sip.
“How do you know that?”
“When I was over at Happy Trails having a cocktail with Desmond yesterday evening we ran into these two professors from Picketwire College, Gretl and Ari - Gretl lives in a trailer there. Well, it’s actually a sheepherder’s hut on wheels - pretty cute.”
“I know her. Gretl Johan is a regular at the Cafe,” Sue replied then sipped some Malbec. A good pairing.
“Why am I not surprised,” Margaret laughed. ”Anyway, they told me that this other guy named Will who works with Gretl at this Institute at the College…”
“You mean the Picketwire Institute..”
“That’s it. Well, this Will guy discovered that Boone is stealing it directly from the Purgatoire River. I told Gretl and Ari that Boone had tried to buy Uncle Arvid’s shares but my Uncle told him no, Gretl said Boone needed Arvid’s shares not just for the water, but so he would have controlling interest in the Ditch. If he has controlling interest then if he’s accused of stealing water he can claim that since it’s part of the Ditch’s allocation from the River…”
“He’d be stealing it from himself,” Sue interjected then helped herself to another spoonful of chili.
“Right. According to Gretl he’ll really need Arvid’s, I mean my, water because he’s not going to get any from Played Out.”
“But Played Out doesn’t have any water. That’s why it’s, well, played out.”
Margaret shook her head. “That’s what everyone thought but apparently there’s this big water aquifer under it that nobody knows about. Except Wylie, that is, and that’s why he wants to buy Played Out. He’s been renting the land around it but he needs to own the land, including the town, in order to own the water underneath it. But Gretl and Ari told the owner of Played Out…”
“Yeah, him. They told him about the aquifer. This guy Will discovered it. Apparently, he’s a hydrologist and knows all about water, especially where it comes from.”
“And he’s sure that this aquifer exists?”
“He’s studied the geology and done seismic tests so he’s pretty certain but they still need to do a test well to prove it. MacDonald gave them permission and it should be done in the next few days.”
“Why do you think Wylie knows about the aquifer?”
“Because this Will guy spotted some equipment that is used for digging test wells on the land Boone rents from the MacDonald’s. Also, why else would he be interested in buying the town? He can’t graze his cattle on it.”
“This aquifer means that Fergus can up his selling price by quite a bit.”
Margaret shook her head. “No, he won’t sell no matter what the price. Apparently, Fergus’ great grandfather, who ended up owning the town and the land when everyone else left, swore to never sell any land, much less the town, to the Boone’s because they had tried to blackmail him into selling out by threatening to close the only road that provided access. Turned out that the road couldn’t be closed as long as there was a town. The only reason Fergus was even considering it was because he had no choice. Boone was going to stop renting the land from him and the rental income is what kept Played Out going. But if there’s all this water under the town it changes everything. So, you see, without the water from Played Out, Boone needs my shares in the Purgatory Ditch or he’s left completely high and dry.”
“Why does Wylie need so much water?”
“For marijuana. Apparently growing pot requires a whole lot of water.”
“It’s illegal to grow marijuana in this County.”
“That will change as soon as Boone gets the water he needs for his marijuana. Gretl told me that Boone controls the Sheriff and that the reason the Sheriff is opposing legalizing growing of marijuana is to give Boone time to buy up all the water. Once Boone has all the water rights sewed up the Sheriff will drop his opposition and it will be legal to grow marijuana.”
“What’s wrong with growing marijuana?’
“Nothing, except that it uses a massive amount of water. This isn’t the place to waste water, that’s why we’re going to use the Fukuoka method for farming that Mister Takemoto is teaching us. I can feel Uncle Arvid cheering us on. In his own restrained Norwegian bachelor farmer sort of way, of course.” Margaret finished the wine in her glass. “What puzzles me is why Boone wants to grow marijuana so much that he’s willing to go to such lengths to get all this water?”
“He can make a lot more money from the Double B by growing marijuana than he can by raising cattle.”
“But he’s already got a gazillion dollars so why does he care?”
“I can’t get no satisfaction, to quote Mick Jagger,” Sue replied with a laugh.
“A glass is always half empty sort of guy, huh?”
“Speaking of which let’s transfer the rest of this half full bottle of wine to our half empty glasses,” Sue said, picking up the bottle of wine and topping off their glasses. “Your Uncle Arvid told Boone that he would never sell his shares in the Purgatory Ditch to him, but does Boone know that you feel the same way?”
Margaret took another spoonful of chili and slowly chewed it before answering. “He contacted me through Desmond and said he wanted me to call him.”
“I told Desmond that I wasn’t going to call Boone but he could tell him that we would meet with him.”
“You and me. I mean, we’re partners in the farm, right.”
“You own the shares in the Purgatory Ditch not me.”
“To be honest, Sue, I don’t want to meet with him by myself.”
Sue put up her hands in surrender. “Alright, you win. Where are we meeting him? It shouldn’t be at his ranch.”
“I said we’d meet at the Café.”
“Good thinking. We can take the corner booth so it’s private for a conversation but public enough that he’ll think twice before he goes ballistic.”
“It wasn’t my idea it was something Gretl cooked up.”
END OF INSTALLMENT 33
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