The first, a flat black circle containing a Double R over an upward arc. The Rockin’ RR, the caption read. Another red, white and blue pattern stuck out. The design matching the backside of a burn patch of cowhide. The letters DB under and two lines meeting at the top forming a roof of sorts.
Elijah bent closer, the brand’s name scrawled in smaller type. Clicking on the design, the page changed. Sheltered DB Ranch from western Tennessee. Pressing on the return key, Elijah searched over the remaining brands bordering the cattle associations home page.
In the lower right corner a P/B. Digging through the small stack of hides, Elijah pulled the one that shared some similarities. The P on the inside of the burnt hide obvious, the rest of the brand scorched and mutilated. Could be, he shrugged and set the stack aside to continue his search.
A sip of the forgotten cold coffee reminded him of his earlier task disrupted by the discovery of the brands. Setting the cup back down, Elijah sat bent over the computer screen. The last couple of brands not noticeable on the cattlemen’s page.
One idea led to the next. Elijah pulled up the brand registry for the state between Tennessee and his home state. Arkansa brand registry revealed the identity of one of the remaining brands. The Circle T ranch sat only miles across the Texas/Arkansa border.
Elijah Sackett stood and stretched. Blinking, he cleared away the tired gritty feeling blanketing his eyes. Walking to the coffee stand, he poured a cup of the black, thick sludge that remained in the pot and leaned back against a wall. His mind pausing on each brand he uncovered. The location of the ranches dictated his next search but the combination of the mixed brands hung in his thoughts.
Being a Special Ranger naturally made him suspicious in the first place when it came to transported cattle and the few morsels of evidence thus far sat unsettled. Odd for most ranchers to sell only a couple animals at one time, not impossible, but rare. So where did that leave things?
Elijah pushed off the wall and wandered outside. The length of time he spent behind the computer screen made his mind think that he’d given up smoking. Lifting the package out of his shirt pocket, he dug out one of the slender tubes and jammed it between his lips. He watched the flame flare from the top of his butane lighter a second before touching the flame to the packed tobacco.
A deep pull on the cigarette filled his lungs bringing a burning satisfaction. Smoke rings rose past unseeing eyes. The act of smoking automatic. Elijah’s mind circled back to the problem of the assorted brands. The fact that not even all the cattle were from the same state, still, a small rancher starting out. Maybe buying up prize stock to build a herd. Sure, why not, he kept telling himself, but some instinct dismissed the reasoning.
Crushing the smouldering butt under his boot, Elijah walked back into the air conditioned interior. A refill of the thick coffee accompanied him back to the desk with the monitor. Sliding the chair uptight, he went back to the Tennessee Cattle Association’s page and clicked on the first brand.
A home page for the Rockin’ RR ranch filled the screen. The convenience of modern technology, Elijah thought. The time saved from numerous phone calls and endless miles of driving to discover the same information now readily available with the point of a cursor and the press of a finger.
He noted the ranch’s number and pushed the corresponding buttons in his cell phone. The phone screen flashed, an operator warned of long distance, then finally a steady ring tone sounded.
“Hi. You’ve reached the Rockin’ RR ranch. We’re not available. Please leave a name and number and we’ll get back to you soon.”
Elijah thumbed the red off button on the tiny screen and went in search of a phone number for the second brand. What exactly he was going to ask when he connected, he had no idea, but he dialled the second number. On the third ring, the line connected, a woman’s voice spoke into his earpiece.
“Hello. Can I help you?”
Elijah cleared his throat. “Is this the Sheltered DB Ranch?” He asked.
“Yes. That is correct.Who is asking?”
Again, Elijah cleared the rasp from his throat. “My names Special Ranger Elijah Sackett from over here in Clarksville, Texas, ma’am. I’m awfully sorry to bother you…” he hesitated, sorting his thoughts. “Had a terrible accident near here a day ago. Two tractor-trailer units collided. One carrying fuel, the other a cattle liner.
Ma’am, have you recently shipped a few head of cattle? Some of the deceased animals carried your brand.”
“I…I’m not certain. I’d need to check with my husband.” The sharp, short intake of breath from the woman betrayed an edging of panic caused by Elijah’s question. “He oversees the daily operations.” She continued, “Those decisions are his. Where did you say you’re calling from, again?”
“Texas, mam. Clarksville, Texas. Is it possible to speak to your husband?”
“He’d have to call you back.” Came the reply. “Who do you work for?”
“The Special Rangers department for the State of Texas. Our department investigates cases of cattle rustling and similar crimes.”
“Were our cattle rustled?” Nervousness raised the pitch in the woman’s voice.
“I have no reason to believe so at this time. I am only doing due diligence by contacting the owners of the cattle killed in the accident. A matter of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s so to speak.” Elijah replied calmly.
“Oh. Okay. Do you have a number. I will get Gary to all you back.”
“That would be mostly appreciated, mam.” Elijah said before reading off his number and repeating his name. “I look forward to talking with your husband. You have a good day now, ma’am.”
Elijah ended the call and saved the number into the phones memory before shutting down his phone. Glancing back at the computer screen, he wondered about calling the other owners of the brands. People sold cattle every day and multiple trucks crossed state lines with an assortment of beef. So why…
He located the number for one of the brands in Arkansa. The phone rang and went to messages. After a brief explanation and recording his name and number, Elijah sought out the last of the Arkansa brands. Here too the call went unanswered.
Spinning around in the chair wondering what to do next, he recalled the home page from Tennessee. Clicking onto the remaining P/B brand, he read the number outlaid on the page as he typed it into his phone. A press of the button sent the call whirring across state lines. I might as well leave a message here while I’m at it, he thought.
After the third ring he rehearsed in his head the message he’d leave when the line connected.
“Hello,” a gruff voice echoed into the ear piece.
Caught off guard, Elijah stumbled into his intro. His voice cracked from the dry Texas air. Clearing his throat, he began.
“Is this the P/B Ranch.” Elijah choked the words out. “In…” he looked back at the computer screen to collect information. “You located in Cumberland County.”
“That’s right.” The rough voice answered. “Who is this.”
“I’m with the TSCRA, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. The Special Rangers Division in Texas… An accident happened down our way between two tractor trailers units yesterday and one trailer carried live stock. The cattle in a trailer died in a fire.
The reason for the call. We salvaged your brand off of some of the dead stock. Well, I believe it is your brand. The markings are stamped over by other markings. Let me ask you, have you sold some beef as of late?”
“I asked who the hell this is,” came the not so polite reply.
“Yes. Sorry. My names Elijah Sackett. Like I said, Special Ranger of the Texas Cattle Raisers Association.”
“What’s your last name again?”
“Haven’t heard that name in quite some time.”
Elijah cocked his head at the remark. “You familiar with the name?”
“I suppose I should be. Used to be my grandmother’s maiden name. Elizabeth Sackett.”
“Well I’ll be.” Elijah train of thought drifted. “What are the chances of that, though, seems I’ve heard tell somewhere of Sacketts still in the Cumberland.”
“What’s the P/B. Am I naming it right. What’s it stand for.”
“The P is for my great granddad Parmalee Sackett. Elizabeth, my grandmother, was his daughter. The old guy fronted the money for this ranch as a wedding gift way back in the late 1800’s. The B stands for our family name, Boutõn. The rough voice pronounced the name Butõ, dropping the the last letter in traditional French fashion.
“And who am I speaking with?” Elijah’s interest peaked.
“Joshua Boutõn, owner, P/B Ranch on Cumberland Plateau, Tennessee.
“Good to get your acquaintance, Joshua.” Elijah said returning to his original purpose. “Tell me, have you shipped any livestock lately?”
Joshua Boutõn held the disconnected phone receiver at arms length, his eyes locked on the device while he scratched the stubble irritating his jaw. A shift of his sight from the plastic mouthpiece down to the leather padded arm of the wheel chair and then farther down to the blanket covering his useless legs.
A huff of air escaped his lips. A feeling of disgust chased away the ebbing of self pity clawing at the base of his brain. Returning the phone to its cradle, Joshua wheeled over to the coffee machine perched near the edge of the lowered kitchen counter.
Been a while since he ventured out onto the range to inspect the land and the thousands of head of cattle roaming the P/B range. A wry smile crept onto his lips. The motion covered by the raised mug of hot coffee. An earlier, happier memory played across his mind of saddling up his favourite horse and roaming the the land out back leading to the Cumberland Mountains.
A phantom twitch deep in his left leg stole back the smile and reminded him of the impossibility of doing that very thing now a days. Two years, well, almost two years since the accident that left him a paraplegic. That damn favourite horse. Why it spoked, the unanswered question still occupied rented space in his mind most of the time.
Joshua shook off the reminiscing and the unforced habit of reliving the nightmare. The images still blurred as if by the falling rain from that faithful evening. Memory loss from a concussion, the doctors repeatedly diagnosed. The fall from the saddle of a runaway horse, the severe bruising of his skull against the boulders of the foothills and the damage to his lower spine.
All of this implanted into his brain after the accident. Events related to him by his wife, new wife at the time, barely past the newlywed stage, and the ranch hands who discovered him lying broken at the base of the rocks, the same scene corroborated by the country sheriffs department.
Many days were spent dwelling on the past. Willing the memories to return. Why? What else did he have to do. A lifetime of being trapped in a wheelchair with limited movement allowed for countless hours of searching for lost memories along with the fresh bouts of self pity.
A stir across the room broke the spell holding his thoughts.
“Who was on the phone?” The inquisitive voice of Sarah, the now Mrs. Boutõn, travelled softy across the vast dining room.
“Thought you were heading to town?” Joshua spun the chair to face his young wife.
“I forgot my phone,” Sarah Boutõn replied. “Swear I’d lose my head if it wasn’t fastened,” she smiled and crossed to her husband, kissing him on his cheek.
“Anything important,” she questioned. “You looked deeply in thought?”
“Ah, the call was quite funny, actually. Say. What’s the latest count on our herds? Any unusual shortages?”
Sarah frowned as she paused and thought. “I don’t think so. The men would have certainly commented if we the numbers were down more than the expected normal. No talk of lions or bears becoming more aggressive. A few head of new borns died, I’m certain we talked about those, but…no. Can’t say the numbers are out of the ordinary. Why? What makes you ask?”
“Nothing really.” Joshua motioned to the wheel chair. “Too much time on my hands.” He explained to her back as she strode across the room for the front door.
Why didn’t he come clean about the phone call and the Ranger’s questions, he wondered. A niggling sliver of doubt about her loyalty surfaced again. Nothing that Joshua could put his finger on but the doubt lingered. Again, happier memories tugged at his feelings. The look of envy from his old time friends as he marched the soon to be Mrs. Boutõn down the aisle.
How long ago was that? Almost three years now since the two married. The happy thought glitched when he remembered his sons disapproval. The boys obviously still struggling with their mother’s untimely death.
Sunlight crept into the room. A sliver of light played across his face. Joshua shifted his weight to a less uncomfortable position then aimed the chair for the closet near the front entrance. A sudden urge settled over his thoughts inviting him to venture outdoors to breath in the fresh air waiting outside and to listen to the symphony of sounds of everyday life of the large ranch.
The tips of the Cumberlands, some still coloured white with snow, looked down across vast expanses of meadows as he rolled onto the veranda. The air carried a chill that bit through the fabric of his light coat. The tip of his grey cowboy hat blocked rays of the bright sunlight from his eyes. Longingly, he looked toward the rising mountains. A wisp of jealousy pinged his soul. Since the accident, he’d not returned to roam the mountains he loved.
Images of deep, clear pools teaming with fish and long, hidden valleys of luscious meadows ringed the towering rock cliffs. Trees rose up close to the peaks. Thousands of acres of forests combined with vast stretches of grazing land to fill the over 5000 acres of the sprawling P/B Ranch.
The longing to revisit the shadows and rivers of the mountains grew stronger. Joshua swished the remaining liquid in the bottom of his cup around and then flicked the mixture of grounds over the veranda’s railing. Tomorrow. Yes, he decided, tomorrow he would make his way back into the mountains.
A quad specially designed for his restricted movements waited in the garage. If he was careful, he could do it. The help of a ranch hand or two would be needed for the trip. He thought of the men working the ranch. These days, few of the old hands remained. After his accident, when Sarah took the reins, conflicts between her and many of the older personal quickly out the lot.
Joshua let his head sag at these thoughts. He failed to return the loyalty the men had shown. Men who stood by his side, worked hard and called him friend, were let down, the old timers slowly disappeared to be replaced with new hires. A tinge of guilt darkened his soul as he recalled the bad hole he’d fallen into after the accident. For a long time he withered in the shadows while leaving his new wife to rehired the staff and run the place.
Joshua shook off the recriminations. Those days were in the past. Time to live in the present. The call from the Special Ranger woke the rancher buried deep inside. His mind forged ahead with plans for the trip.
Old Tom Wiggins, an original hire, going back decades with the P/B still called the ranch home. He and Joshua had ridden side by side for many years. Joshua knew if he asked, Old Tom would agree to take the venture along to the mountains.
And while they traveled the back quarters, he’d have time to check on the herd. Once upon a time he’d known every cow and calf on his range, maybe now was time to reacquaint himself.
Sarah would be mad at his decision. He pondered what he’d say in his defence to quell her doubt then realized he didn’t overly care. The ranch was in his name. She’d have little choice but to come around. In fact, if she failed to see his way or worried about his safety, he’d ask her to ride along. The two rarely did anything together these days.
Elijah turned the wheel, guiding the truck onto the narrow, gravel filled shoulder on the side of the road. A line of cars, slowing to pass the accident, showed in the side mirror. The vehicles moved at a crawl, the driver’s determined not to miss any of the details of the large, smoking wrecks that lay across half the highway, blocking the west bound lanes.
Waiting as the last car rolled by, Elijah swung open the door and slid a foot onto the baking Texas asphalt. From behind dark glasses, the Special Ranger briefly locked eyes with the bright morning sun while he ran a handful of fingers across the top of his forehead and capturing the stragglers of hair, combing them back before sliding his hat off the truck seat and settling it on his head.
Cursing the string of overly hot spring days, he stepped away from the front of the truck and walked closer to the huge pile of of bent and smoking metal laying blackened on the road.
“What you got Bob?” The tall Ranger asked when the County Sheriff nodded in his direction and walked to join him. With a hand offered in greeting, County Sheriff Bob Johnson turned and faced the wreck.
“It’s a bad one, Elijah.” Sheriff Johnson tugged a handkerchief from the back pockets of his pants and moped the early morning sweat from his face. “Too big rigs collided. One carrying petrol. Burned pretty hot, not much left to identify.”
The men talked while they walked back toward the smouldering rigs. Elijah waited for the Sheriff to finish mopping his brow and continue the report. “Probably close to fifty head squeezed in the back there,” the Sheriff pointed to the overturned trailer. “Haven’t dug either driver out yet but dental will be the only way to identify them, I believe.”
“That bad,” Elijah frowned, nodding along. His attention following along as the Sheriff’s hand pointed to the wrecks while the man spoke.
“Any particular reason to call me?” Elijah asked.
“Maybe not, but I ran the plates on the cattle liner and they come up unregistered. I figured with the back end full of cattle,” Johnson went through the process of moping his face again before finishing. “I figured you’d want to see things for yourself. The cattle might not be stolen, but…”
“I can’t imagine they’re the only unregistered plates on these roads. And the cattle. No recent calls for missing animals, but I’ll stick around. No recent breaks in my current case so I’ve got nothing urgent happening. I imagine that once the driver is identified all will be well.”
“Hope you’re right. Too much of this rustling shit lately. Now every time I come across cattle it sets me to wondering.”
“You need a break, Bob. Get out of the sun. Take your kid and go fishing or something. Leave the job for a few days and recharge.” Elijah pondered the Sheriff’s concerns then swung the conversation back to the accident. “Any idea when we can open the trailer. Maybe a brand in there that I can run. Find the owners that-a-way.”
The evening sun showed low in the western sky by the time the tow trucks sorted and separated the melted steel of the separate tractor trailer units.
“You want to open the trailer here or wait until we pack it down to our yard,” The Sheriff asked once the trucks were loaded onto a separate lowboy trailers for the drive south to Clarksville.
“Go ahead. I’ll follow you down. I’m going to hunt supper first. Damn near hungry enough to eat a horse, saddle and all.” He turned toward his truck.
“I’m gonna need a name to okay this,” one of the tow truck drivers piped up walking toward Elijah with a open clip board. Elijah looked about but Sheriff Johnson had already climbed into his 4x4.
“Yeah. You can put my name on it. Elijah Sackett. Special Ranger outa Paris, Texas.” Elijah slowly pronounced the letters of his first and last name.
“Okay. That’s good.” The driver tucked a notepad into his breast pocket.
“You driving down to Clarksville with us?”
“Eventually. The Sheriff will meet you. You need his name, too.” Elijah waited. “I’m gonna grab some grub first before I head on down.”
“I know Bob well,” the driver said. “Enjoy your supper.”
Elijah Sackett worked the tip of the toothpick between his teeth freeing bits of beef burger and lettuce from supper as he leaned against a wall. A Luke warm coffee from the local roadhouse occupied his other hand. From under the brim of his hat, he watched the firemen and police alike comb over the wrecks of the two tractors involved in the accident earlier in the day.
The local fire department employed the hydraulic assistance of power tongs to rip through the melted metal of the back trailer doors. A pop and then a prolonged shriek echoed in the mechanical bay of the Clarksville Sheriff’s department as the doors were pried open.
A smell of burned hides and charcoaled beef leaked from open door filling the large room. Clamping a palm over his nose and mouth, Elijah Sackett pushed off the wall and stopped shy of the open door. The firemen busied themselves packing up their tools before allowing any law officers to move in.
Sheriff Bob Johnson crowded in front of Elijah. The shorter man, about a good six inches less in height than Elijahs 6’2, stretched on his toes to gain a look into the darker remain of the cattle trailer.
“One helluva mess,” Johnson commented. “Tom, climb up in there with a light.” He shouted at one of the forensic team.
Sackett waited while the forensic team stumbled about the dead and cooked cargo. A glance at his watch read 12:40. A stifled yawn escaped his lips reminding him of the long day already burnt and the 45 minute drive home.
“Hey, Bob,” He called to the Sheriff. “Let me climb in there and see if I can lift a bit of hide with a brand. Damn near falling asleep on my feet.”
“Tom, you and Spence hold the light for Elijah. Let him have a quick turn so he can take off.”
“Thanks, Bob.” Sackett said lifting a boot onto the remains of the trailer’s bumper and pulling himself up. Taking care where he set his feet, he stopped at the burned clump at the rear of a cow. Slipping on a pair of leather gloves from his back pocket, he bent low to the carcass. Long fingers slipped a locked blade from the sheath on his hip. A flick of his wrist opened the knife, the 6” blade gleaming under the forensic lamp. With a trained ease, he slipped the point of the knife under a patch of skin near the rump of the cow and slowly sawed the parched skin away from the overcooked meat.
The fire had burned horrific the way the cows were scorched but the skin lifted smoothly. Freeing a large chunk, Elijah squatted on his haunches and bent close to the loose hide. Marks were barely visible on the underside of the skin.
“Here, take this Bob,” he said passing the removed hide toward the back of the trailer. “Maybe under better light we’ll be able to make some sense out of it.”
Dusting off his gloves and then brushing charcoal from his jean bottoms, Elijah crept from the trailer and jumped to the floor. Taking his time, he slid his gloves off and stuffed them back into his pants pocket. “You able to read that?” He asked the Sheriff . Johnson busy bent over a table with a portable light cranked close for netter lighting.
“Yeah. Looks like maybe two marks. One over top of the other.”
Elijah Sackett joined the Clarksville Sheriff bent over the table. The two talking and comparing what their tired eyes reported. Elijah stood and took a notebook from his breast pocket. With a stubby pencil he drew likely reproductions of the brands.
“The bottom one is easier. A P slash something. Maybe an 8. The other, I’m not sure. Kinda blurred.” He compared notes with the Sheriff.
“Tell you what Bob. I’m heading home. I’ll sleep on this and meet up with you in the morning. Clearer heads might have an easier time.”
On the ride home, the P/B brand played with his thoughts. Thousands of Texas brands locked in his memory but the parched outline on the backside of the cowhide failed to ring any bells.
Sunlight broke through narrow slits in the blinds and played across Elijah's face. A twitch and the swipe of a hand to scoot away the annoying beams of light drug his unconscious mind out of a restless sleep and into the new day. A half opened eyelid reported the late morning hour to a brain addled with the after effects of 80 proof whiskey.
A turn of his head brought the littered coffee table into view. Styrofoam containers from the local take out burger joint and the partial remains of a bottle of Old Number 7 stared back. Shaking loose the cobwebs attached to his brain left a trace of pain from the beginnings of a self induced headache.
Elijah rolled, his legs lifting then settling on the hardwood. Pushing his body toward a sitting position, he reached past the tempting bottle of liquor and pinched the slim butt of a cigarette, the lighter lying inches from the pack. With the burning smoke clamped between his lips, he started unbuttoning his shirt as he stood and angled for the bathroom.
Steam rolled from the behind the shower curtain. Elijah breathed deeply of the remains of the cigarette and bent toward the ashtray when the phone out in the living room erupted shattering the morning silence.
Crushing the smouldering butt, Elijah returned to the front room. A step out of his way led back to the package of cigarettes. Flicking the lighter, he swallowed a pull of smoke then scooped the phone from its cradle. A glance at the led display told of the callers I.D.
“Morning Bob,” Elijah’s cigarette ravaged voice spoke into the receiver.
“You in a different time zone, Elijah. Morning passed away several hours ago.” The sheriff joked.
“Yeah. I suppose,” Elijah checked the time display on the phone. “That last case took more of a toll then I suspected.” He excused.
“Well, no panic,” Sheriff Bob Johnson clarified. “Boys in the forensic lab got back to me. Pulled a number of different brands from that barbecued trailer of cattle. Some I know off hand. They're local brands, some of the others we’re checking on. Running them through the registry. Just thought I’d let you know.”
“Much appreciated Bob. Any tag line on the trucking company or the driver?”
“No. Nothing yet. That fire scorched plenty hot. Even the dentals gonna take some time.”
“Thanks for the call Bob. I was just getting mobile. I’ll head down to see you in a bit. Maybe something will develop. If not, I can give you a hand tracing the brands. I’m all mighty curious. Might be nothing, but who knows.”
Back in the bathroom, an aged hand swiped a clear path through the mist covering the mirror. The other leather skinned hand engulfed the jaw and tilted the sun beaten face back and forth. A smattering of short, greyish white stubble matching the mane of collar length hair, covered the sallow cheeks and sharp jaw currently under review. Elijah’s light grey, tired eyes stared back from the mirror, thin reddish veins crept into the whites.
Even under his own scrutiny his face looked thin, and haggard. The cigarettes and 80 proof whiskey combined with a workaholic lifestyle showed heavy with age. A final stare down before the razor scraped the stubble clean and a slap of aftershave sent Elijah looking for a clean shirt. His mind foregoing the chastising of bad life choices as the intrigue of the latest case buoyed his spirits.
The mid day sun blazed down to the ground. Elijah felt the heel of his boot sink slightly into the heated black tar covering the road. A lift of his hat and a swipe of the back of his hand removed the beads of sweat already gathering on his brow tin the few steps from the pickup to the side door of the Clarksville forensic lab. Welcomed blast of cool air buffeted against the 100 plus degrees from outside as he pulled open the steel door.
The short hallway led past an empty office and toward the twin swinging doors to the back workspace. Formaldehyde failed to mask the stench of decay ground into the walls and floor of the large room.
“You got no fans to carry this stench away?” Elijah posed the question. Sonny Lynch, the lone forensic analyst for the Clarksville County turned and smiled at his visitor.
“Smells a sight better then I suspect you do most days,” the analyst responded. “How you doing Elijah. Is this your case now?”
“Naw. Don’t think so. Probably just a couple of unfortunate law abiding citizens got themselves involved in a wreck. Nothing for me if that’s the case.” Elijah admitted. “You got copies of the brands from some of those cattle that burned? Bob said there was a few different stamps on the cattle inside the trailer?”
“Stacked a few away in cold storage, already.” Lynch replied, setting down the water pick in his hand and moving toward the cooler located to the side of the large space.
“Some are legible,” the analyst talked over his shoulder. His finger tracing a burnt outline through the plastic protection of an evidence bag. “Others aren’t so well. Got your work cut out for you if you plan on joining in.”
Elijah sidled up beside Lynch, receiving a few packages passed by the forensic analyst. The stack of hardened chunks of cow hide brittle under the pressure of his fingers.
“I’ve got a bit of time to kill. Let me use the computer in your office and I’ll run down as many as I can. Too bad for both the drivers and their cargo. That fire burnt mighty hot by the looks of things.”
Sonny Lynch shook his head in acknowledgment. “Hopefully things was over fast. For both the men and cows sake.”
“Yeah,” it was Elijahs turn to agree. “What’s your password Sonny. I’ll grab us a coffee then get started.”
The back of Elijah’s eyes burnt from staring at the screen. The door to the back room of the building opened starling him out of a slow day stupor.
“Hey. Pick up the phone. Bob’s on line 3. Press the flashing button.” Sonny Lynch’s voice crossed the room. The man’s words muffled by a cloth mask clamped across his lower face.
Elijah blinked away the soreness in his eyes and nodded. “Thanks,” he mumbled.
“Bob,” Elijah cleared his throat and talked into the receiver. “What’s tickin’?”
“Working on tracking down the owners of those trucks,” the Sheriff paused. Pages rustling in the background filled the brief silence on the line. “The tanker is outa Oklahoma. Some Verified Gas Distributors. It’s the other tractor/trailer unit. Now that’s a different story.”
A couple of the identification numbers were melted from existence. I’ve pieced together likely combinations. None that have worked as of yet but caught an odd one. One version of the VIN is originally outa Tennessee a few years back.” Sheriff Johnson halted his story again. More paper rustling sounded across the line.
“That unit hasn’t been register for years. Doesn’t mean an awful lot and I might be off with my surmising. Anyway I thought I’d touch base and see how you’re making do?”
“Not much better, Bob. No luck so far in the state database for the brands I’ve checked up till now. Only run a few so far. A lot of god damn brand’s listed in this state. More than enough to fill my time.”
“Let me know if you get lucky. I’ll keep my foot down on tracking this rig. Got to be papers somewhere for it.”
“Okay. Sounds fair, Bob,” Elijah ended the call. Lifting the styrofoam cup to his lips, one slurp told of how long the coffee was ignored. Squeezing his lips against the cold, bad tasting liquid, He returned the cup to the desk. The Sheriff’s talk of Tennessee got Elijah thinking.
Bringing up a new search page, he typed a request for local brands a few states to the east. Elijah stood to replace the cold coffee, the search engine busy opening onto the Tennessee Cattlemen’s Association. The coloured page bloomed to life displaying several brand designs set around the edge of the page. A quick glance down and a couple of familiar sightings made Elijah forget his coffee run and returned him to his seat.