Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Bickering Feds

Here's a scene that didn't make the final cut for my unpublished novel, MONTANA IS BURNING. I liked the characters too much to kill them off, though, so they do appear in a few later scenes. Oh, wait a minute. I just remembered - I DID kill off one of them...

Six hundred miles south of Mullen County, Montana, FBI special agent Jordan Pelzner handed an airsick bag to his traveling companion and looked past him out the window. To the east, the sun edged from behind mountains dusted with early snowfall. Pelzner looked beneath the 737’s wing at the intricate network of dikes and roadways surrounding the Great Salt Lake. Some reservoirs were full of water, others evaporated to salt beds. He wondered how many tons of salt the Mormons had extracted over the last hundred and fifty years.

The retching at his side interrupted Pelzner's wool-gathering. He handed a napkin to Fred Rugar, the senior ATF agent for the Western Region. Rugar patted the pointy chin that anchored his heavy jowls and stuffed the napkins into the airsick bag. A sour odor drifted toward the FBI man.

"You know," said Pelzner, "you have an unusual method of preparing for an investigation."

"Shut your damn face."

“Is that standard operating procedure in the Seattle ATF office -- drink yourself blind and then bust up a gay watering hole? Or is it usually the other way around?"

"For freaking missionaries, they sure got a mess of gay bars."

"Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms..." Pelzner mused. "I suppose you can't smoke or shoot worth a damn either."

"Heaven protect us from self-righteous Fibbers. My damn head is ready to burst and here you’re thumping a bible for all you're worth. Lemme die in peace."

"That's a tempting thought, my friend, and you certainly couldn't smell much worse. Might even be an improvement for the first few days."

"I had any strength, I'd yank your tongue out."

"No, Agent Rugar, I can't let you die. Too much inter-departmental paperwork and besides, you're the big cheese on this case."

"Aw shit, don't mention cheese."

"I’m afraid explosives mean this one's an ATF case. The FBI just came along to smile at the reporters and pay the bar bill."

Rugar’s hands trembled on his lap. "Don't remind me what we're headed for. I was hoping to coast into retirement without sniffing any more crispy critters."

Pelzner watched he poor bastard’s shakes grew steadily worse. He wondered if there were any medical personnel on board. The ATF agent gripped the armrests as if the seat bucked under him. The tremors finally subsided and Rugar took a few long, slow breaths.

“Your color’s coming back, my friend," the FBI agent said. "But you’re still a bit green around the edges.”

"Takes me freaking days, sometimes weeks to get the smell of burnt flesh outta my hair and off my skin. Don't know how many suits I've gone through in the last twenty years. Stunk too much to dry clean, just threw them out."

"That's why you get the big money."

"Hah!" The ATF agent’s bitter laugh turned into a wheezing attack. Beet-red jowls quivered as he pounded his barrel chest with one hand, tightly holding the armrest with the other.

"Great impression. That's from The Exorcist, right?"

"Lord," said Rugar, raising his eyes in mock prayer, "help me live through this flight and I'll do any penance you name. Go to church. Shoot a Fibber. Any-damn-thing."

"I notice you failed to mention celibacy."

"Leave your mother and me outta this, Pelzner."

"So the subtle Fred Rugar wit lives on, despite the anticipated demise of the body. I'm sure the locals will be suitably entertained."

"Yeah, I’m really looking forward to meeting Barney Fife and the rest of the Mayberry gang. I swear, if I find one piece of evidence mishandled, I'll rip each freaking bugger a new anus."

"My friend, your attitude bodes poorly for cooperation with the Mullen County Sheriff."

"Those hicks probably don’t handle twenty felonies a year. Best for them to stand back and let the pros take over."

"You take over, Agent Rugar. I'll hold your jacket and lead the applause."

"Just make sure there's a freaking rental car waiting in East Cupcake."

"That's Edgerton."

The ATF agent turned away from Jordan Pelzner and looked at the morning sun rising past the Wasatch Mountains. "Whatever."

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