WELCOME TO PICKETWIRE
A serialized story
by tim wintermute
SOMETIMES YOU GET WHAT YOU NEED
Jane was both astonished and saddened at what she read in the eleven typed pages Drexel Herbert found in the Picketpedia files of submissions that lacked evidence – what he referred to as “purgatory”. “You have to publish this in Picketpedia,” she said, handing the pages back to Drexel. “What I told you about me and my husband discovering the abandoned camp and my uncle’s story that grandfather told him about the camp supports it.”
Drexel held the sheets of paper in his hand, as if weighing them. “What you told me is certainly evidence that supports what’s written in this account. However, there is still the fact that there is nothing in this document that identifies who wrote it. The only thing we know about it is that Picketpedia received it on September 2, 1980. That’s more than forty years ago. What the person who authored this has written will create quite a stir to say the least and without knowing who that person is we can’t judge its veracity. Were they an eyewitness or are they relating something they were told and, if so, how did that person come by their information? Without that knowledge we will need corroboration from other sources that can back this up. Until then, I’m afraid this must be cast back into purgatory.”
“But Mr. Herbert…”
“Drexel, there must be some way to make this public,” Jane pleaded. “It’s just wrong to file this away in your Picketpedia purgatory where it could spend eternity waiting for additional evidence. People need to know what’s written on those pages you’re holding account.”
“Yes, I see. There is the call of history to consider” Drexel placed the pages on his desk, tapped them as he knitted his eyebrows in thought. Finally he said, “There is one possibility...”
“What?” Jane almost leapt from her chair.
“Although I’m not a religious person it’s my understanding that what someone tells a member of the clergy is confidential. Like what a priest hears in the confessional. Is that correct?”
“Yes, but what does this have to do with what we are talking about?”
“Just wait here a minute I’ll be right back.” Drexel took the file and walked behind a partition next to his office space. There was the hum of a copier and a couple of minutes later he returned and placed a manila envelope on the desk and pushed it toward her. Then he clasped his hands together and looking directly at Jane said in a solemn voice, “I confess that I am giving you a copy and suggesting that you might want to show it to Tom Tiddings and see if the Picketwire Press will do a story on it.” He paused and then closed his eyes as he continued. “And by doing this I also confess that have sinned against Picketpedia by violating my responsibility as its editor in chief.” He opened his eyes and said with a wink. “I hope I haven’t committed a mortal sin.”
“Trust me, you haven’t,” Jane said with a broad smile as she took the envelope.
Back in her office at Picketwire Community Church, Jane slipped the copy of the account from the manila envelope. She decided to follow the ancient mystical practice of Lectio Divina in which you read the text several times slowly after which you meditate then pray and finish with a few minutes of contemplation. As she contemplated the internment camp appeared in her mind’s eye, but it was now populated by people who looked like her. Then the scene shifted to the unmarked graves in the Picketwire Cemetery. They were open and empty. The ghosts in the ghost camp had been resurrected. Jane was convinced that the account was a true one. As Drexel had suggested in his “confession” she needed to show it to Tom and ask him to publish it in the Picketwire Press.
Jane picked up the sheets and held them suspended in the air above the desk as if she was weighing them the same way Drexel had. She and Tom hadn’t talked to each other since her return to Picketwire. When she spotted him sitting in one of the pews as she gave her first sermon she had expected they would meet. As she stood at the back greeting people after the service Jane wondered what he would say, what she would say, whether they would even say anything and just shake hands like two strangers. As she greeted each person she glanced over their shoulders at the line behind them, hiding her anxiety behind her pastoral smile. After the last person filed past she stood there wondering if Tom was waiting until everyone was gone to suddenly appear so that they could talk in private. When he didn’t appear it was clear to her that Tom had slipped out so that he could avoid her. Jane suddenly felt guilty as she realized that she had not only felt disappointment but relief. She slipped the sheets of paper back into the manila envelope, stuffed the envelope in her purse, slung her purse over her shoulder and walked out of her office.
Tom was in the middle of writing his weekly column and having the usual hard time when Jane walked into the Picketwire Press office. Fortunately, the high roll top desk hid the lower half of his face with its stunned expression. He jumped up from his chair, which like the desk had also been passed down from his grandfather.
“Oh, there you are,” Jane said walking over toward the desk, her right hand clutching the manila envelope. “I hoped I’d find you here.”
“You did?” Tom stammered as he stepped from behind the desk. “I mean, well, here I am.”
“Yes, and here we are.”
“I was meaning to come by the Church and say hello.”
“I beat you to it,” Jane replied with a smile, deciding it was better not to mention that she had seen him in Church when she’d given her sermon.
“Please, have a seat,” Tom said, pulling out the chair from behind Gloria’s desk over. “This is one of those ergonomic chairs with all the knobs and levers so you can adjust it. I bought it for a reporter I just hired but she’s out right now.” After Jane sat down he retreated to the straight back, oak chair from behind his desk.
“I see you’re still sitting in your grandfather’s old chair.”
“Yeah,” Tom said running his hands along the arms of the oak chair that had been polished by years of elbows. “The same chair, the same desk, the same job. Unlike you. I mean you left and went off to the east coast…”
“And now I’m back.”
Tom nodded. “And you’re a reverend and you’re married.” There, Tom thought with relief, he’d said it. “I was surprised when I heard.”
“That I’m married or that I’m a minister?”
“You always said you wanted to get married and have kids,” Tom answered, leaving out that he had expected at one time to be the husband and father. “But I don’t remember you talking about wanting to be a minister. That surprised me.”
“It surprised me as well. I guess that’s why it’s a calling rather than a wanting. What about you?”
“Nothing surprising in my life,” Tom sighed, looking around the office. “This must be my calling because it sure isn’t something I wanted. But, as the Rolling Stones song goes, you can’t always get what you want.”
“But you might get what you need,” Jane said, paraphrasing the song’s next line. “Not just what you need but you’re doing something here that is really important for the community by reporting on things that they need to know. Things that have been covered up.”
“Like this,” Jane replied, pulling the sheets from the manila folder and handing them to Tom.
“What’s this?” Tom asked, looking at the papers that he held.
“Just read it…please,” Jane said.
Tom read the papers, placing each sheet he’d finished face down on the top of his desk. After the last sheet he turned the pile face up and looked at Jane. “Where did you find this?”
“Picketpedia. It was in their files. I went to see Drexel Herbert this morning and asked if he knew about a World War Two internment camp and he looked in the filing cabinets where they keep submissions they received but never published. He refers to it as purgatory.”
“Why didn’t they publish it?”
“Drexel said that they require independent corroboration, especially since it was submitted anonymously.”
“But he let you make a copy of it so you could show it to me?”
Jane looked down at her clasped hands and said. “I’m afraid that’s covered by pastoral confidentiality.”
Tom sputtered. “Everyone knows that Drexel’s an agnostic.”
Jane grinned. “I gave him special dispensation.”
“Is there any evidence at all that supports what’s in this?”
“I can verify that the camp existed because Bruce, that’s my husband…”
“I know, we published a wedding announcement. Bruce Levinson. Native New Yorker. B.A. from Columbia. Harvard MBA. Works for one of those big consulting firms in New York…”
“Bruce quit when we moved here,” Jane said, cutting off the recitation. “Anyway, as I was saying, Bruce and I found the abandoned camp when we were on a hike. When I asked my Uncle Joji about it he said that he’d heard about it from my grandfather. He also told me that he’d found the unmarked graves that are mentioned in what you just read. I went to Picketwire Cemetery and saw the blank stones marking the graves. While I was there I spoke with the caretaker, Lazarus Lamont, who told me that in 1946 when he was five years old he had seen the burials. When he was a teenager his dad told him that the bodies had been disinterred from the camp and were being re-buried.”
“That supports what’s in here about burying bodies just outside of the camp and then moving them later to the cemetery,” Tom said, fingering the pages.
“There’s more,” Jane said. “My Uncle also told me that a young man visited him recently and asked about the camp. He told my Uncle he’d been doing research on the camp and that he’d come across some papers. Some of the things he told my Uncle he’d found in the papers, the prisoners in the camp being used as forced labor on the Double B, for example...”
“Are also mentioned in here. Now, if we could find this man who visited your Uncle and see the papers he’s referring to they could provide real corroboration for what’s in this account. Did your Uncle describe him?”
“Uncle Joji just said he was in his twenties, medium height and weight.”
“Not much to go on.”
Jane laughed. “My Uncle isn’t very good at describing people. Now, plants and animals he’s great at but when it comes to humans…” Her voice trailed off as she shook her head and looked at the floor. Then, suddenly she looked up at Tom and said. “Wait, now I remember, he said the guy was driving a Jeep, but lots of people around here drive them.”
“A jeep! Was it a Jeep Wrangler?”
“A Jeep Wrangler was spotted tailing Wylie Boone when he left his ranch the other day.”
“You think it’s the same Jeep?” Jane asked, bending toward Tom so that their faces were only a couple of feet from each other.
Tom leaned back, tipping the oak chair onto its rear two legs. “From what your Uncle said this young man who was driving a jeep wrangler was pretty angry at the Boones because of the camp. We thought that whoever was tailing Boone might have been involved in the hit and run in Aspen that nearly killed him, but maybe it’s this guy instead.” Tom leaned back again, even more and searched the ceiling. It could even be the same guy, he thought.
“Isn’t that all the more reason for you to do a story on this?” Jane pleaded.
Tom rocked back and forth on the rear legs of the chair as he scratched his chin. “Well…” Suddenly there was a crack and he was on the floor looking up at Jane. Tom scrambled to his feet and looked at the chair, his hands on his hips. One of the back legs had snapped. “What the…”
“Hell,” Jane laughed.
“The hell,” Tom repeated then turned to Jane with a grin on his face. “I think granddad just sent me a message.”
“That I can’t sit on this story.”
When Tony had called Sister Beatrice to ask if they could meet about the new tour he was planning she quickly agreed. In fact, she added, she and Sister M’s had something they wanted to discuss with him as well. While he drove to Our Lady of Lost Souls convent Tony went over what he was going to say. Suddenly seeing a sheriff’s patrol car on the side of the road, he hit the brakes. Instead of radar gun pointing at him from the window Tony saw a deputy sheriff with a half-eaten sandwich in his hand looking at him as he passed. It was certainly a better spot for a lunch break than a speed trap, Tony thought. Still, to be safe, Tony kept his speed down as he continued on.
Sister Rachel, who was sitting behind the reception desk in the Welcome Center, told Tony that Sister Beatrice and M’s were in the museum next door. Inside the entrance he found them standing next to an exhibit mounted on the wall that showed the layout of the old Purgatory Penitentiary superimposed on a map of the area.
After greeting both of them Tony asked what they wanted to discuss. “No, you go first, Tony,” Sister Beatrice insisted. “Tell us about this new tour you’re working on?”
“I’m putting together a mystery tour and I’d like your help.”
“My work is all about solving mysteries,” Sister Beatrice laughed. “Do you have any particular one in mind?”
“Sure,” Tony responded with enthusiasm. “The mystery is how a map that was stolen from my great, great grandfather that was proof of the Medrano Land Grant, ended up hidden in a cell that was once occupied by a convict named Ruf Ryder who was in prison for robbing the Double B Ranch.”
“And the solution to this mystery is that Ryder stole the map from the Double B and that C.W. Boone was the one who stole it from your great, great, grandfather, right?” Sister M’s asked.
“That’s one possible solution for the mystery,” Tony said, then paused as he considered what to say next since Don Francisco had given his word of honor to C.W. Boone that the Medrano family would never publicly accuse the Boone’s of stealing the map. “But I’ll make it clear that our family isn’t accusing the Boones of stealing it.”
“Good, because there aren’t enough facts to support it,” Sister Beatrice said. “The only evidence we have is finding the map in what was once a prison cell. It could just be a coincidence that the cell was occupied at one time by Ryder. While there is evidence that the map is authentic, how it got from your family to the cell is just conjecture at this point. There’s no proof that C.W. Boone stole it from your family, or that this convict Rufus Ryder stole it from the Double B, then smuggled it into prison and hid it in his cell.”
“If there was proof it wouldn’t be a mystery,” Tony replied. “All I’m asking is if you’ll let me bring the tour group here and show them the cell and the map of the stolen land grant and if you’ll tell them that there’s evidence that it’s authentic and, also, that Rufus Ryder had occupied the same cell while he was serving his sentence for stealing from the Double B. That’s all.”
“That’s enough for people to suspect that Ryder stole the map from the Boone’s,” Sister M’s said. “You don’t have to accuse the Boones stealing it from your great, great grandfather, others will do it for you.”
Tony shrugged, a slight smile grazing his lips. “We can’t stop people from trying to solve a mystery.”
“Wylie Boone will try. He might even file a lawsuit. Suing people is like a shoot out for him and he has a lot of gunslingers with law degrees.”
“Does that mean you won’t agree to be part of the tour?”
“Of course we’ll be part of it,” Sister Beatrice replied. “After all, you’re only asking us to show your tour group the evidence that’s been uncovered. Besides we love a good mystery, don’t we M’s?”
“And, we’re not going to be intimidated by Wylie Boone,” Sister M’s added.
Visibly relieved that they had agreed, Tony asked them about the matter they wanted to discuss.
“We have a mystery tour of our own we’d like you to help us with,” Sister M’s said. “Actually, it’s more of a mystery escape than a mystery tour since it involves several people who will mysteriously escape from here.”
“But no prisoner ever escaped from the Purgatory Penitentiary,” Tony objected.
“You’re correct that no one ever escaped. This escape hasn’t happened…yet.”
“Why would someone want to escape from a convent?”
“You saw one of Riggleman’s deputies parked on the road here?”
Tony nodded. “He was eating lunch, why?”
“He isn’t parked there on a lunch break. Riggleman is keeping us under surveillance while he waits to get a search warrant approved. As soon as he does he can come in and look for the three undocumented immigrants we’re hiding.”
“That’s why we need to move them.” Sister Beatrice said.
“You’re going to try and sneak them past the deputy?”
“No, they’re going to escape through a tunnel that Sister Beatrice discovered,” Sister M’s said.
“It starts here in the old power plant,” Sister Beatrice said, turning to the diagram on the wall and tapping the power plant on the prison layout. Then she drew an invisible line with her finger to a point halfway between the east wall and the edge of the bluff overlooking the Purgatory River. “And it comes out here.”
“I don’t get it. What was the point of digging a tunnel if no one ever escaped?”
“No one escaped through the tunnel,” Sister Beatrice explained. “Because convicts used it to smuggle in contraband not to escape.”
As Tony stepped closer to the diagram then, turning to face Sister M’s and Sister Beatrice, he said. “In other words, what you’re planning is a breakout without the Sheriff even knowing.”
“Yes,” Sister M’s replied. “That’s what I meant by calling it a mysterious escape because it needs to remain a mystery as far as Riggleman is concerned.”
“Why do you need my help?”
“We need your help because once they escape through the tunnel and get to the other side of the wall we still need to get them to a safe house without anyone seeing them.”
Tony shook his head slowly. “The problem is there’s only one road in and out of here and that’s the one the Sheriff is watching. And if they try to slip by the deputies on foot it will be a long walk and the only cover to hide behind is sagebrush.”
“You have a tour that you do on horseback, right?” Sister M’s asked.
“It’s our signature tour called Riders on the Purple Sage.”
“We’d like you to lead a special Riders of the Purple Sage tour that includes this stretch of the Purgatory River below the bluff.” Sister M’s traced a route on the diagram. “There’s a path from the top of the bluff down to the river. I’ll lead them down to where you’ll be waiting with the horses.”
Tony scratched his chin and looked at the diagram. “When does this have to happen?”
“As soon as possible. Tomorrow at the latest. I know through my sources at the county courthouse that Riggleman will likely get his search warrant by tomorrow afternoon. The only thing holding it up is that this is a convent.”
“Well, at least I’ll only need four horses. One for me and three for them. That makes it easier on such short notice. I can pick them up and transport them to a jumping off spot for the tour. There’s a place near the river about a mile from here that I’ve used before. After I pick them up we’ll ride back there and I can drive them to the safe house you mentioned. Where is it, anyway?”
“We don’t know.”
“You don’t know where the safe house is?”
“That’s because we don’t have one yet. It isn’t easy to find a safe place, especially in such a short time frame. Ideally is should be a place that no one would suspect and would be outside Riggleman’s jurisdiction.”
“You mean somewhere outside the county?
“Inside. We don’t have time to arrange something like that. Someplace in Picketwire would be best since it’s the only town in the county that has its own police force so Riggleman’s authority is limited and he doesn’t have free rein.”
“So we need a place in Picketwire that no one would suspect as a hiding place?”
Tony inhaled deeply and looked at the ceiling as he thought. Finally, he exhaled. “One.”
Tony’s father, Roberto, sipped from a glass of brandy while his mom, Delores, knitted as they listened to Tony. When Tony stopped, his father hunched forward, rolling the half empty glass between his palms and said, “So if I understand what you just said, you are asking us to hide three people from Sheriff Riggleman here at Hacienda Medrano.”
Tony nodded. “If he catches them he’ll hand them over to ICE and they’ll deport them without even a hearing. ICE stands for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”
Delores looked up from her knitting. “Your father and I know what ICE stands for, Tony. What we don’t understand is why you haven’t told us until now that you’re involved in helping undocumented immigrants.”
“I didn’t want you to worry about me getting arrested.”
“But you’re not worried about us, your parent’s, being arrested?” Roberto asked, reaching for the bottle of Presidente brandy and pouring some into his empty glass.
“Of course I am,” Tony said. He was standing with his hands on his hips in front of the large fireplace framed by tiles in the rustic living room of Hacienda Medrano, the pinon scented fire basting his back. “But this is one place where Riggleman wouldn’t suspect that they’d be hiding. Even if he did, he doesn’t have jurisdiction in Picketwire so he doesn’t have the authority to search houses and arrest people. Besides, they’ll only be here a couple of days until we can arrange their safe passage out of the area.”
“And if we refuse to take the risk?”
“It’s your house…”
“No,” Roberto cut him off. “This is our family’s hacienda and it’s our duty to avoid doing anything here that brings dishonor.”
“And you believe this would bring dishonor, is that it?”
“No, it would bring dishonor if we refused.”
“You’re saying they can hide here?”
“We are saying that they are welcome to stay here as our guests,” Delores answered, putting her knitting down and rising from her chair. “Now, since we don’t have much time before they arrive I need to prepare three of the bedrooms.”
After Delores left the room, his father filled an empty glass with brandy and handed it to Tony. As they clicked glasses, Roberto said. “To doing what is honorable.”
After taking a large swig, Tony said. “Speaking of honor, I need to tell you about a tour that I’m putting together…”
END OF INSTALLMENT 28
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