Chapter 1: SEPTEMBER 5
Joe took the blow on the left side of his jaw and groaned. As he spit blood on the dirt floor of the barn, he knew that several teeth had been loosened. He had been in the barn for several hours and things were not going his way.
“Listen up, you punk-assed doctor! Either you agree to vote for the oil or we will keep pounding on you.” The next blow was with the handle of a shovel against the side of his right knee.
Joe managed to retort, “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.” A solid punch to his chin turned off his lights. He was out for several minutes. Then someone threw a bucket full of water in his face and slapped his cheeks, until he was semi-conscious. Through his blurry vision, he was able to make out the three thugs who had been torturing him. They wore rubber masks; one of Ronald Regan, one of Donald Trump and one Mickey Mouse. They had on western shirts with snaps and all wore leather gloves to protect their hands. A second bucket of cold water roused Joe to alertness.
Then a voice that he had not heard before, spoke to him from behind. “Dr. Joe, you are a tough guy and have taken a fair amount of punishment. You are also a smart guy or you wouldn’t have made it through medical school. Now, turn on your brain and imagine what would happen if this amount of punishment was delivered to your pretty wife, Allie? Do you think she would still be swearing at us?”
With a cold, hard voice, Joe replied, “If you touch Allie, I will make sure that you die.”
“Nice try, but you don’t know who we are and we know everything about you. Are you going to vote for oil or do we need to continue our persuasion?”
Being realistic and in considerable pain, Joe consented, “Yeah, I’ll vote for oil.” But, under his breath he vowed, “I will be coming for you assholes.” After a final punch to Joe’s stomach, they released the handcuffs from his wrists and he collapsed forward, away from the pole that had been holding him up. He lay on the ground and gasped. When he was able to get a good breath,
his stomach revolted and he vomited a mixture of yellow gastric acid, his breakfast burrito and blood from his mouth. It took three pukes before he was empty.
He rolled over onto his hands and knees, grabbed the pole and slowly hoisted himself upright. He looked around the barn and saw an old abandoned structure that was about to collapse. The walls of the horse stalls were leaning in all directions and many of the slats were broken. The hay loft had several large holes it, with hay sticking through. There was no equipment or machinery inside. The water bucket was tossed against a horse trough that had some stagnant, slimy, green water in the bottom. There were no obvious clues about his three enemies.
Joe got down on his hands and knees and studied the boot prints in the dust. There were four sets, three made by cowboy boots and one by a work boot with a waffle sole. He knew enough CSI crap from books that maybe someone could get information from these tracks. He rose slowly and started to skirt around the tracks to get to the open door. As he passed the water trough, he glanced down and saw a pack of Camel cigarettes and an old silver lighter balanced on the corner of the trough. It looked like one of the thugs put them there so he wouldn’t lose them during the torture. Then he forgot them. Dr. Joe smiled to himself, and exhaled, “Got you, asshole.”
Joe left the barn and closed the door to preserve the evidence. He looked at the sun beginning to set in the west and realized that he had no idea where he was. His only option was to walk down the old gravel road leading to the barn. He would have preferred to call Uber, but he didn’t have his cell phone. It was only a quarter-mile driveway and then he hit an old blacktop road. As usual, Joe chose to go west. While he limped along the road, he assessed his injuries; three loose teeth, a cheek cut on the inside, a very sore and swollen left jaw, a bruised and tender abdomen and a very painful right knee. Not bad, considering he could have been dead. He had been hurt almost this bad while learning to ride his mountain bike on single-track.
After trudging along for thirty minutes, Joe heard a truck coming up behind him. He stopped walking and waved to the driver. The truck was an old F-150 Ford with at least two dents for every year of its twenty-year existence. The driver was in his mid-thirties and was covered in coal dust, obviously from Evergreen Coal mine, which his ball cap advertised. He rolled down the window and asked, “Where ya’ll headed pardner? And what the hell happened to your face?”
Joe tried to smile but it hurt too much, so he replied, “I was riding my mountain bike when I blew a tire and slammed into a tree. It hurt like hell and bent my bike frame. I decided to leave it and come back for it later. I’m heading to Indian Springs.”
“Me too. Get in and I’ll give you a ride. Damn, that is about seventeen miles away on the road. That’s a long ride.”
Joe said, “It’s only about twelve miles if you cut cross-country and don’t hit a tree.” They chatted about the weather, coal mining and county politics on the drive. The miner wanted to know if Joe knew anything about the possible oil drilling coming to Indian Springs. Joe responded, “It hasn’t been decided yet by the county commissioners. What do you think?”
“It sure could bring a lot of jobs to the valley and that would be good. Coal mining seems to be going down the drain. We’ll need something to replace those job and boost the economy.”
Joe asked, “What about the quality of life in the valley? What about the tourism to the Hooks’ Ranch project? What about the clean mountain air we get to breathe?”
“Easy man, I was just expressing my opinion. Don’t get all riled up.”
Joe smiled as much as possible and answered, “You are right. Everyone has a right to their own opinion and should express it openly. Then the county commissioners will decide. What’s your name? I’m Joe.”
“Carl. Nice to meet you. Where do you want me to drop you, Joe?”
“Middle of town is fine. Thanks, Carl. Maybe, I’ll see you around.” Joe slowly limped the two blocks to his office, got his truck and drove directly to the Tomahawk County Sheriff’s office.