Cole Musgrove was outside of the blacksmith shop, performing an almost lost art with saddle horses: shoeing.
Driscoll watched as Musgrove stood close to the horse’s hindquarters, reached
down, picked up the horse’s hind foot, then, holding it up with one hand, maneuvered
around and placed the foot between his leather-clad legs. He checked the fit of
a new shoe. Satisfied that everything was right with the world, he expertly
nailed it in place. A quick trim with a file and the job was done.
“You know I watched Uncle Frank do that
countless times,” Driscoll said.
“I don’t need to do it as often as I
used to,” Cole said. “We still use horses but the quad is a lot faster.”
“Yeah, but a quad is no match for a
“Roger that; it takes a real good horse
to handle a mean bull; a quad is no match.” Musgrove paused to remove the heavy
leather apron. “What can I help you with, Sheriff?”
“Well, I’m sure you heard about the cars
we found in Francis Lake yesterday; trying to figure out what happened. We got
a good idea of who was driving the older car; at least it was registered to
Charlie Scheels, whom you know has been missing for over fifty years. The other
two, I’m not clear. One of the bodies is a woman.” Mark paused and retrieved
the leather chaps which had dried and responded to a good cleaning. He pointed
to a set of elaborately tooled initials. “You wouldn’t happen to know who “DB
“Doug Bond,” Musgrove replied without
hesitation. “One of the best bull riders I ever saw. Of course, I was pretty
young at the time; I was—hell—six years old when he disappeared. Headed for
Cheyenne—National Finals—got to be 1959. Doug worked for Elroy Haige, out
toward the South Butte.”
“Elroy Haige.” Mark paused for a moment.
“He was on that old Roy Parks spread, part of the George Grainger ranch. Dad
and Uncle Frank knew him.”
“That’s him,” Musgrove said. “Course we
all got a pretty good idea who Roy Parks was.”
“I remember that old Chevy car that
Charlie had,” Cole continued, “kind of a gun-metal silver, it was. I was told
Charlie bought it just before he went to Korea and just kept driving it after
he got back.
“Charlie was a rodeo cowboy too—saddle
bronc. Skirt chaser when he wasn’t riding; a real philanderer. He’d get on the
rodeo circuit and I’m sure he had a girlfriend in every town, and probably at
least three in every city. His wife was a psychotic boot; I don’t know if he
chased around because his wife was psycho or his wife was psycho because he
chased around. Whatever he chased around.”
“I remember Charlie’s wife,” Driscoll
said. “She used to pour drinks at Dutch’s Bar in Sunburst; she and that huge
lady, uh, Dorothy Popp, only Popp was
short for her real name—.”
Musgrove added for him. “The story goes that Charlie was seeing a lady in
Choteau,” he continued, “she was married—to a guy with shell-shock, who
wouldn’t hesitate to cause plenty of trouble if anyone crossed him. Of course,
Charlie was married too. From what I heard Dad talk about, Charlie was headed
down to Cheyenne, along with Doug Bond. The night they left, they all
disappeared. Dad was a deputy back then; he investigated but never turned up
anything except that this lady from Choteau disappeared that same night.”
“I’ll have to follow that up,” Driscoll
said. As he stood up to leave, he asked, “Charlie’s wife—?”
“Committed to the loonie bin around ’65.
Died somewhere around ’68 or ’69—cut her wrists. Son—Stan, and his wife,
Wendy—you know Wendy—Peterson—,”
“Oh I know Wendy,” Driscoll said. Kind
of a student body—.”
“Some called her the ‘town pump,’”
“Dated her myself in high school,” Mark
added, “but she dumped me for Darrel Buchanon; flung herself at him for a
while then dumped him.”
“Well, she sure seemed to have a thing
for Stan,” Cole added. “She married him, threw the nightlife away and
commenced to raise seven kids; all churchgoers; all responsible citizens.”
“Guess there’s hope for all of us,”
Driscoll said with a forced grin.
Driscoll left the Musgrove ranch and
drove down the road, deep in thought. The case of the older car was more
questions than answers. For the time being, there was the strong possibility of
two suspects; a jilted husband or a jilted wife. They would need to find a slug
and then see if there was a gun to match.
The Scheels spread was on the Border
Road, a road that ran up to the Sweetgrass Hills themselves. Stan had served in
the Marines, joining up less than a year after Driscoll, but had gotten out
after his required time was completed. He had married Wendy between his time in
basic training and his deployment. His paternal uncle had run the ranch while
he was away; the original plan was to take it over but when Stan gave
intentions of returning, the uncle readily decided to head for the eastern
headquarters and left the original place to Stan. He and Wendy had built up and
improved the ranch and had done an enviable job of both running a ranch and
raising a large family. Driscoll drove down the tree-lined lane into the yard
and parked in front of the rambling house. He could see a newer three quarter
ton truck driving in from one of the pastures so he stood beside the Yukon and
Stan and his wife were both in the
truck. They might have been a little guarded at first but then, most people are
intimidated when they come home to see a sheriff’s department vehicle in the
yard. Any misgivings were dissolved within a few minutes. There were the usual
pleasantries before the sheriff told them of the real purpose of his visit.
“I think we found your dad’s car,”
Driscoll began, “We drug it out of Francis Lake yesterday. License plate
indicates that it was last registered to your dad back in ’59, the year he
Stan was silent for several minutes
while he comprehended the news. “I heard it on the news, about the cars in the
lake,” he said finally. “You’re sure it was Dad’s car?”
“The license plate indicates it, and
considering your dad had a ’49 Chevy ‘Fastback’ it looks very much like it’s
your dad’s car.”
“What about Dad? I heard on the news
that they found a body.”
“Three bodies,” Driscoll said, “all I
know so far is that there are two men and a woman. Pondera County is following
up from their end because there’s a chance—and that’s only if our suspicions
are true—the woman is from north of Choteau. Since there’s a possibility that
one of the victims is your dad, I’m going to need a swab from you to test for
“What about the other guy?” Wendy asked.
“We’ve got an idea but I can’t say; we’re
checking for dental records, and once we’ve established something more positive
we’ll try to locate his family.”
“Doug Bond?” Stan offered as quickly as
Musgrove had just done.
Driscoll gave a slight nod.
“Doug’s real name is Dallas,” Stan continued.
“I don’t know how he got the Doug moniker.”
Driscoll shrugged. “Probably the same
way I got called Mark.”
Wendy was surprised. “Mark isn’t your
Driscoll shook his head. “My middle name
was Martin; my grandmother called me Marty, and called me that till the day she
died. My Uncle Cordell, Mom’s brother, got part of his jaw blown away during
the war, and he had a major speech impediment. He could barely manage to call
me Mark. ‘Course he was usually about twenty-three sheets to the wind and had
trouble talking anyways.”
“I’m actually surprised that those cars
weren’t discovered years ago when they all but completely drained the lake,”
Wendy said, steering the subject back to its original course. “I can remember
places you could walk across it. It seems that they found a motorcycle, a
computer and a stack of rifles in there, back in the mid-eighties.”
“I think the Pondera county sheriff
still has the rifles,” she added.
“Glacier County,” Driscoll corrected her.
“They traced one to the murder of a Canadian RCMP officer from just north of
the border about twenty years ago.”
“I read about that,” Wendy mentioned.
“Still unsolved,” Driscoll said.
They completed the swab on Stan, and
Sheriff Driscoll sealed the jar. “You say there were two cars?” Stan asked.
Mark nodded. “The other one was eleven
or twelve years later, almost the same place. It’s actually the one we found
first; we were going after it when we discovered the older one, and we had to
get the older one out of the way first.”
“I’ll be damned,” Stan said. He stood up
and left the room for a moment, returning later with an old photo of his dad’s
car with his dad, clad in his army uniform, posing proudly beside it. “That’s
just before he went to Korea.”
“Thanks,” Mark said. “I’ll make a copy
of it and return it to you.”
The work was far from done. Driscoll
arrived back at the office then immediately began to sift through a mountain of
Reports, missing person reports, no one
even reported them missing until four days after the rodeo was over and they
hadn’t returned home. Possible sightings, then the interviews. The
investigation carried on for the better part of a year then was finally sent to
the place where all unsolved cases went: the vault in the basement.
It was well past dark and Driscoll was
beginning to realize that he had only gotten maybe two hours of sleep in the
past twenty-four hours. He switched off the lights in his office then checked
the phone to ensure that any calls would go to the answering service and
prepared to leave for the day. He was reaching for the door when his cellphone
It was Hinkley. “Sheriff, they drug the
bodies out of the cars and they’re on their way to the city morgue. They’ve got
the cars loaded and are ready to take them down to the lab; they just need your
“Just tell them to go ahead. If they
need anything more, tell them to see Moffit.”
“Roger that. Coming home.” Hinkley
sounded tired too. It seemed that Driscoll was always dependent on Hinkley.
They had been best friends since Second Grade in school and shared nearly everything.
When they graduated they both enlisted in the Marines. Both had spent a lot of
years in and out of service to Uncle Sam and had looked forward to retirement
before the sheriff’s position suddenly became available. And that was supposed
to be a temporary job but had somehow gone through no less than two elections
afterward. It seemed that Hinkley was the only member of the staff that stuck
around. Well, Driscoll shouldn’t exclude Larson, who was a rookie when Driscoll
Tammy was happy to see her husband home.
Being married to someone in law enforcement was a challenge, almost as much of
a challenge as being married to a soldier. And she had been married to both.
There were times when the absences were almost overwhelming but she also knew
that Mark and people like him wanted to be home with their families instead of
being out in the elements, chasing elusive criminals, settling domestic
disturbances, or sorting out the grisly aftermath of a tragic accident. Mark
had been a marine—a Navy SEAL, in fact, although when she met him he was
working as a mechanic. He had later been involved in military investigations
and government probes. But he always knew where home was, and he was always
glad to be there.
Sandwiches and coffee on the table, they
sat down and talked about the things that mattered: Roger was busy on the farm,
and he and Uncle Paul were busy spraying crops. The hay crop was almost ready
to cut and branding was coming up. Wesley was coming home from Afghanistan and
had a good chance of not being deployed there again. He was in line for a
promotion and would probably be wearing two silver bars on his uniform next
time. Melissa was going to work in Yellowstone again this summer and she
probably wouldn’t be home until just before classes began in Bozeman. And that
left Jordan, who was a freshman in high school.
Where had the time gone? It seemed like
only a few days ago when Mark was working on his motorcycle outside the shed
over at the old fourplex. The end of a blistering hot day and Tammy asked if he
could help put a new bed together over at her place. That was thirty years ago.
An investigation never sleeps. Driscoll
managed to grab some much needed hours but come Monday morning he was up with
the sun and at the office long before anything else was stirring in the
community. He had an investigation to run and answers were needed. And the
predawn hours were often the times when progress was the best.
Best keep the investigations separate;
there was no need to put them together anyway as it was established that over
ten years had passed between the times that the cars had left the road and
plunged into the lake, taking a combined four lives in the process. Of course, there was the possibility that those weren’t accidents. The sheriff had just
begun to read through the massive pile of files when his cellphone rang its
Driscoll picked it up and listened to
the caller. He woke up his computer and accessed the message. After seeing the
information that was sent, he killed the call, gathered up a map, and left a
message for Hinkley. He locked up the shop and climbed into his Yukon.
The first place he drove was to the
lake. He unrolled the old map then examined the tracks made by the car when it
was pulled from the lake. He then went and placed stakes where the old road
would’ve been. About sixty yards from the boat launching ramp was a berm, tall
enough to stand behind, and yet be reasonably well protected or camouflaged. He
made a sketch on the map then got back into his vehicle. On an impulse, he
quickly emerged again and opened the back to the SUV. He pulled out the metal
detector and went back to the berm.
Probably an hour passed as Driscoll
walked back and forth along the berm slowly playing the detector from side to
side. A beep and the sheriff stopped and probed the ground. The first thing was
a bottle cap. He dug up several bottle caps and a couple of quarters, even what
looked like a fifty-cent piece. He paused and gazed at the flags he had placed
to mark the approximate location of the original road. He then moved over a
couple of feet and began to retreat toward the lake.
A distinct beep and he probed again. The
earth was mixed with a lot of gravel due to the approach and the boat ramp; it
made digging a bit difficult. Driscoll had the most success with a large
screwdriver. He would dig and turn the dirt over and scan it with the detector.
More bottle caps then something long and narrow. He carefully worked the object
out of the loosened up dirt. A shake and a moderate tap and he slipped the
object into a plastic bag.
In the course of another hour, he found
another similar tubular metal object. He carefully photographed where it was
found then staked the area off. After putting the detector away he got back
into his SUV and drove away.