The two men sat balancing their heavy dark oak chairs on back legs. Dust lit by sunshine cast the room a pale, morning shade of gold, but the room seemed warm, and Newton County’s Sheriff Roger Staley manfully warred against a nearly irresistible temptation to fall asleep by pretending to hang on every word coming out of Gil Bosch’s mouth.
When the crackle of the sheriff’s usually quiet radio interrupted the FBI agent’s diatribe on the subject of the general wink-wink attitude toward the law he’d observed among Arkansas citizenry, it startled them and both chairs landed on all fours with a resounding thump.
“This is an emergency! Mayday! Mayday! SOS! Whatever will raise somebody off his fat backside long enough to send a med-evac chopper up here.”
The voice sounded familiar to both men.
“Identify. What’s your 1020.”
“Where I am is at that meth lab on Hogsback. It blew…” He coughed and struggled to breathe. When he returned to the mike he wheezed impatiently. “We need a chopper. NOW!”
“Turco.” Bosch muttered. “Listen, Turco,” he said, grabbing the mike from the sheriff. “You don’t have the authority to call for medical evacuation—“
The radio squawked as Denny compressed the emergency override button.
“GILBERT!” Denny wheezed, “you wanna talk about the FCC and who has authority for what? Be sure to mention these two little kids we pulled out of this trailer. Now are you going to send a chopper or what?”
“What’s your 1020?” Sheriff Staley asked, having regained the use of his radio.
Both men listened carefully as crackling fire clamor mingled discordantly with mewling cries of what could have been children. Denny sounded as if he might be choking, coughing—barking, hacking, sucking wind in noisy gasps.
Sheriff Staley stepped away from the radio and grabbed the phone to call the med-evac dispatcher. “Somewhere on Hogsback. An explosion. Unknown number of casualties.” He hung up and headed for the door. “Keep him on the radio, will you, Bosch? I’ll go see if I can find him.”
The chaos he could hear on the radio contrasted sharply to the quiet in the office. Questions crawled out of the silence and surrounded Bosch.
Yesterday it had looked fine. What set it off today? Kids? Casualties are always bad, but kids… What kids?
What were they doing there? And how much had Turco figured out?
He could still hear the fire, but the coughing had stopped.
“Turco? You still there?” No answer. “Turco?”
“Yeah?” Barely more than a whisper, followed by more coughing.
“You know it’s against FCC regulations for a citizen to transmit on the county frequency. You could be in a lot of trouble. When this is over, maybe you ought to come in and talk to the sheriff about it.”
“Trouble?” Denny asked, barely audible. “Tell you what, Gilbert…” He paused for breath.
Bosch hated it when Turco called him Gilbert, and Turco knew it, too. One of these days he’d have to teach him a lesson about respecting authority.
“Listen up, Gilbert,” Denny began again, “I’ll let you know when I’m ready to turn myself over to Staley for unauthorized transmission on his precious county frequency.” He coughed and resumed, his voice almost gone.
“You be sure to be there because I have a couple of questions of my own.” He coughed again and when he next spoke, he had regained some volume.
“For you, Gilbert. About this fire. And if my buddy Jake here doesn’t come out of this—and it doesn’t look too good right now—you will have a nice fair trial right there in the sheriff’s office. I’ll be the judge. I’ll be the jury. And here’s the part I’ll enjoy most, I do hereby volunteer to execute the sentence myself.”
Bosch stared at the radio for about 20 seconds, then turned it down and made a couple of phone calls.