Later that evening, as the hospital job site started to wind up for the day, Philpot and Jenkins shut down their surveillance gear and sat waiting, in their Suburban, for Rascal to pull out of the parking lot. They watched him load up his gear and talk, for ten minutes, to one of the other Masons. As they parted, the larger man reached out and squeezed Rascals right shoulder. To Jenkin’s, the pair seemed close. This struck her as odd, given that McDermott apparently moved around from job to job. Traveling wasn’t really conducive to making close friends. When he pulled out of the lot, the duo slipped in behind him and followed the big Ford, which seemed to be following the equally large Dodge driven by the second man. Sarah got a tag number from the Dodge, as the trio made a left turn.
“The Dodge is registered to a Rylie Pratt. Mr. Pratt,” Sarah continued while typing rapidly on her laptop, “Graduated seventeenth in his class from Cornell, and is a state certified lawyer, working as a brick mason. He…”
“Fuck, this just gets weirder and weirder. A missing kid miraculously resurrected with a near six digit income who lives in a camper, and now a Cornell minted lawyer who’d rather lay bricks. What the hell is so damned appealing about spending hours and hours putting one little square rock on top of another? Please, Jenkins, please remind me to ask the little bastard when we talk to him.”
She stopped typing and looked harshly at him. They were not going to talk to him. Their orders were quite specific. No contact.
“You aren’t going to talk to him, Philpot. No contact. Pratt comes from a family of lawyers. Has a residence on Hickory. Old heritage place, built in the 1900’s. No wife lives alone, does Pro Bono…”
“Would you marry the dumb bastard? Live on Mason’s pay when you could be a Lawyers wife.”
“Careful, they are turning into that bar. Pass it by, and then we can loop back. We will let them go inside and get settled. Then, we will go in and do what, Philpot? Repeat after me, Sandy. Observe.”
“Observe. Now observe this, Agent Jenkins. How the fuck do you plan on just slipping into what is clearly a very locals only blue collar bar. For fuck’s sake, The Wrecking Ball? It’s called the Wrecking ball.”
“Just pull back around and park a little ways down the block. We are just two out of towners looking for a beer. The place is packed. Nobody will care about us.”
Philpot parallel parked along Young Street and shut the truck down. Both agents loaded and checked their side arms. It wouldn’t hurt to be ready. The bar definitely seemed to have the potential for violence. Tired, drunk men all blowing off steam at the end of a long week and squeezed into a small space was never a good mix.
“Okay, Jenkins, let’s go meet Mr. Mason.”
“Oh my God, Philpot! Observe, observe, observe.”
They strolled down Young Street looking at the trucks and other vehicles parked along the curb. It was a mixed lot. Several different trades, it appeared, frequented the Wrecking Ball. At the door, they settled their weapons and pushed in. The bar was a smoky, smelly, raucous, dimly lit rectangular shaped room. A long bar ran along the back wall to their right and the remainder of the space was littered with battered small round tables. Philpot put his right hand on Jenkins’ thin right shoulder and nudged her forward toward the nearest end of the crowded bar. Once there he flagged the petite barmaid and ordered them beers.
“Come on Jenkins. We should grab a table. Do you see him anywhere?” He asked leaning down close to her ear causing her to flinch away.
“No, But there, there is a table back there about mid-way, let’s just hope some local doesn’t consider it theirs.”
They sat down and while sipping their beers and scanned the room. The different trades sat together drinking and talking amongst themselves. There were iron workers stacked up at a table in the back corner. They were the loudest of the groups. Near the door sat several men who were a bit cleaner than the others. Their shirts labeled them as electricians. The plumbers held court at the far end of the bar and along the middle of the bar stood, as they finally noticed, their target along with four other masons.
“There, see him, Philpot? Him and the big one with the Dodge and the other guy from the scaffold and that older guy.”
“I do, I do indeed.” He replied smiling. “The mason in the flesh. Cheers to us.”
“To us. He doesn’t seem to talk much. Mostly listens. And see, see how close the Pratt guy stands to him. The body language is quite telling. Don’t you agree.”
“Actually, Jenkins I do. Despite my irascibility, I am a fully trained agent. Like crows on a wire, men typically space themselves out very equally along a bar. But here we have nicely spaced guys, and then Pratt is nearly shoulder to shoulder with McDermott. Whatta you think? Partners or partners. Tough crowd to be all lovey dovey in.”
“Hard to say. To me, it feels more protective. McDermott is the younger of them, and we know that Pratt does the Pro Bono work so he has a defender mentality, but why and from what?”
“No clue. Maybe, he knows about Montana and is just…well feels like the kid needs someone to watch his ass. Or, maybe, he just likes to watch his ass. Whatever it is they are definitely tight.”
“He seems pretty shy.”
“Yea but that is a trait for wanderers. They never need that kinda companionship. Scares them. So they wander. This guy spent seventeen years on the run, Jenkins, nine as a kid. He doesn’t need anybody.”
Sarah stared across the table at Philpot. For the last two days, he’d shown only disdain and irritation with McDermott, and now he was making very convincing arguments about his personality. It was a striking shift in professionalism. She hoped he stayed that way.
“Seems he has Pratt. Do you think he will want contact with them, his family? They must have suffered all of these years with the uncertainty.”
“Doubt it. Would you go back to the place in those crime scene pics? Fuck no. And if he’s guilty…well…my question is; is Melville professional and detached enough to carry out his fucking duty. Seems too emotionally tied to this guy. Beer’s dry, I’ll be back.”
Before she could stop him, he was up and gone, striding confidently across the room toward the center of the bar, where he sidled up next to McDermott. She chugged down the remainder of her beer and sighed heavily.
“So much for professionalism. Shit!”
Sarah watched for a full ten minutes, before pushing away from the table and going to the bar. She squeezed in, to Philpot’s right, ordered a beer and started listening to the conversation. Philpot was talking, somewhat animatedly, with Pratt about the tedium of brick laying. She had to hand it to the agent. He was a consummate conversationalist, talking to the men as though he’d known them for years. Rascal remained silent unless Pratt or Philpot addressed him directly. After ten minutes of this, he flagged down the bartender and bought them all a round of drinks. Jenkins was actually starting to relax. Then Philpot threw her a curve ball.
“Oh,” he began looking at her and then back at Rascal with a smirk, “I never really introduced us. This is my partner Sarah and I’m Sandy. And you, you’re Rascal McDermott right?”
Jenkins gagged on her beer and stepped back slightly, Philpot stood there grinning and McDermott set his beer down on the bar very carefully.
“No. Never heard of him.”
“Sandy!” Sarah hissed at him.
Behind Rascal, she could see Pratt looking at his friend incredulously. The blatant lie had obviously taken him aback. The other two Masons stepped back from the bar and now stood closer to Pratt and McDermott. The group had opened up into a small semi-circle. McDermott might not want friends, but Sarah realized he’d definitely gathered some rather loyal ones.
“That’s odd. I have it on pretty good authority that you are indeed Mr. Rascal McDermott. Hmm. My source has never really been wrong.”
“Look, Sandy.” Pratt said tersely “What do you want with my buddy? He answered your question. Now, we had a nice little chat, but it’s time for you to go.”
“I don’t think so. So, you’re really gonna deny it, McDermott. Don’t make this all so difficult.”
“Look, guy, I told you. I’ve never heard of any McDermott. Now back off. Get out of my way.”
Sarah stepped back, as Rascal pressed forward trying to get past Sandy and to the door. When the agent held his ground, Rascal shoved him roughly.
“That was a mistake, McDermott. Now, I am FBI and all I want to do is sit at my table and have a little chat about Montana. So, just come along…”
This time, Rascal set himself and rushed Sandy driving into the agent with his lowered right shoulder. Before Philpot could regroup Rascal staggered him with a right hook to the agent’s left cheek. Sandy stumbled back a step and then with a stunningly quick violent counter attack, he grabbed Rascal, forced him into an arm lock and slammed him three times, face first into the edge of the bar. Jenkins retreated six paces and drew her weapon.
“FBI! Everybody back off, now. Philpot! Philpot!”
At the bar, Philpot crushed a stunned Rascal against it, dragged his arms behind his back, cuffed him with wire ties and slammed his head down one more time. Then, he leaned down and hissed in the man’s right ear.
“All you had to do, you stupid fucker, is sit down and talk to me. Fuck! Come on.”
While Sarah held the stunned onlookers at bay, Philpot frog walked Rascal to their table. Pratt was screaming for Rascal and the older Mason was physically holding him back. The other trades were on their feet watching the commotion, but not willing to interfere. She watched her partner slam McDermott down into a chair, and then pound his face into the table again. She screamed at him but her admonition went unheard. Needing to get the Masons under control she holstered her weapon and moved swiftly over to the trio.
“I am FBI agent Sarah Jenkins.” She said firmly while showing her credentials. “My partner is…”
“Is beating the shit out of my friend! Why are you arresting him? What are the charges? Who sent…”
Sarah held her hands up, palms out calming him. This was exactly what she’d been afraid of. Now, their simple surveillance mission was completely blown and with it, more than likely so was her career. What had Melville’s final command been? ‘Keep Philpot on a tight leash.’ What she wanted to do was wrap that leash around his neck and strangle him to death.
“Mr. Pratt. You are Mr. Pratt right?”
“How do you know that?”
“I can explain. Just let me get Philpot calmed down, and then we can all sit and work this out. Just give me a minute. Yes?”
Pratt threw his hands up in frustration. What more could he do? The older Mason grasped him by the shoulder and tugged him back a bit.
“I’m Rascal’s boss and good friend, Caleb Oldenburger. Get your man under control. Then I want to know what the hell just happened. Rylie call your father.”
Oldenburger’s stern command rattled her and she turned and moved rapidly to the table.
Rascal sat hunched forward, head drooping. There was blood on the butcher block patterned Formica from his broken nose and split lips. He was breathing heavily. Sandy was pacing in a tight circle with his hands clutching the back of his head, clearly furious. Rascal’s punch had split his right cheek and his eye was swelling shut. He noticed her and stopped.
“Gimme the file!”
The bellowed command caught her off guard. File? Then it hit her. She had Rascal’s file in her shoulder bag. She took it out and Philpot snatched it from her hand.
“Philpot…Sandy, this has gone too far. You need to stand down and let him go. Our orders…”
“Our orders went to shit when he hit me. He struck a federal agent. He’s going to jail.”
“Alright, but he has people here that want to know what just happened. They are witnesses, Sandy, to your excessive use of force. Right now, we are not in the best position legally. At least take a moment and explain this to them. Philpot!”
Philpot growled. Sarah had no idea that the agent possessed such a violent streak. She’d been wholly unprepared for it and the results that it wrought. She motioned for the trio of Masons to come over. They surrounded the table. Rylie tried to make eye contact with Rascal but the injured man kept his head bowed refusing to acknowledge his friend.
Finally, Philpot looked at the men. He laughed wickedly and dropped the folder onto the bloody table.
“I tell you what this about. No, better yet, I will show you. Picture’s worth a thousand words right?”
Sandy Philpot opened the file and dragged out the stack of crime scene photos. He slapped the first one down on the table atop Rascal’s blood, grabbed him by the hair on the back of his head and yanked him up so that he could see the picture. As the scene came clear to the group surrounding the table, there was a collective gasp.
“You’re not Rascal McDermott! This, this isn’t you crouched naked in that barn a bloodied fuckin’ mess holding a twelve gauge shotgun? Not you? How ‘bout this one? Or here, this is my favorite. Not you pointing it a sheriff. You still gonna tell me that you are not Rascal McDermott, you lying piece a shit. That’s damn sure you. We have facial rec technology that proves it. It wasn’t you who did this? Blasted these two men nearly in two, with that shotgun. Not you? How many rounds did you fire, Rascal? Their heads are gone, boy.”
The group of men all stared silently down at the color pictures scattered round the table. Rylie finally reached out and picked one up. He tried desperately to wrap his mind around what he was looking at. The photograph, taken at night, with the aid of a flash. It depicted the interior of a large barn. In the right-hand side of the photo, huddled in the corner, on the straw covered floor was a small boy. The child was naked and clutching a shotgun close to his chest. In the bright light of the camera’s flash, you could clearly see that someone had viciously battered the child. His left eye was the size of a golf ball and shut, crimson-hued blood streamed from his nose sticky and glistening with coagulation and his thin torso was black and purple with bruising. To the boy’s right, about fifteen feet away, were the shredded bodies of two men. There was no way to tell their age. The shotgun blasts had destroyed their heads.
The picture slipped through his trembling fingers. It drifted downward, missed the table and landed on the sticky floor. Panicked by what he’d seen in the photo, Rylie looked up from it and back at his friend. Rascal was shaking and his hands opened and closed spasmodically into tight fists, within the overly tight constraint of the black wire ties. Rylie knew that Rascal needed medical treatment, reassurance and legal representation immediately. He knew that he had to act, and at a loss for a solution, he looked to the female agent for help.
Sarah too had seen enough. Her career and the case were on the line. Despite Philpot out- ranking her slightly, she had to gain control of the situation. How to do that was another matter entirely.
“Agent Philpot, you have made your point, now stand down, please. You have your objective in custody. Go out to the truck and wait for further orders, while I try to pick up the pieces of this mess,” she demanded while pulling out her cell phone, “I am contacting local law enforcement. We will need to use their holding cell, until Melville gets here. Philpot, move out, now!”
To her amazement, he did and she stood taking deep breaths while waiting for Selwig’s Sheriff’s department to pick up her call.