Irene, Iowa – Population 1,000

There are moments in our life when right and wrong become tangled.  It becomes impossible to commit to one or the other.  The natural tendency is to let emotions take over.  Later we suffer the consequences.     

SHERIFF LEROY FARLAN STOOD near Lake Bollon and stared down at the ground.  A few feet in front of him were two knotted ropes.  Blood was on both.  A torn shirt and ripped up trousers were a foot away from them.  A trail of blood ran from the items.  It stopped after five feet.  Beyond the blood were no other clues.  The ground was undisturbed.  No tire impressions.  No footprints.  Only smooth dirt.

Sheriff Farlan took off his hat and scratched his head.  Two forensic employees from nearby Hagars Town were collecting anything they could find that looked like evidence.  Hagars Town had forensic employees.  Irene was too small to afford to have them. 

What forensic had collected in the bags was a bunch of nothing, Farlan thought.  No one would make a case with an old bubble gum wrapper and cigarette butts that appeared several weeks old.  Add in the fact that hunters came through that area from different towns and states.  This was not a crime scene at all.  It was a mere gathering place where an anonymous caller said Gary Ketter went missing.

Lake Bollon was not giving up a damn thing.  Farlan got in his Sheriff’s car and headed back to town.  On the drive, he never imagined that a crime of this magnitude would take place in Irene.  And no one could have seen it taking place at Lake Bollon.

Lake Bollon was twenty miles away from Irene.  It was a place where families went after church in the spring and summer months.  Baptisms were performed in the lake.  Residents got married nearby the lake.  The lake was a hangout area by young high schoolers.  Many thought it was cool to have their first intimate relationship there.  The lake was a wholesome place to be.

That thought created a question in Farlan’s mind.  Lake Bollon was a family place.  Lots of kids went to it.  The question was, why was Gary Ketter there.  A place where he was forbidden to be by the courts.  A place where, if he took a strong whiff of it, would send him back to prison for twenty years.  Why was he there?  Who knew he was there?  Who was he with while he was there?  And why were the citizens of Irene lying to him about not seeing Gary?  Most of all, why was Gary’s wife lying to him about not seeing Gary?

Farlan had an idea.  He flipped on his lights and turned on the siren.  The car shot over seventy miles per hour.  He radioed in to the station. 

“Yes sir, Sheriff,” Deputy Greg Jay said. 

“Listen, Greg,” Farlan said.  “Don’t let any of them leave.  Tell them if they attempt to go back to work, to the factories, or their farms, I’ll arrest every single one of them.  And then they’ll be forced to make bail.  And I would guess with the other law agencies coming in on the investigation all their bails will be outrageous.  Tell them I said that they better get their story straight before I get there.  I won’t be made to look like a fool.  You tell them.  I want the truth.  The whole damn truth.  No matter how ugly.”  Before Greg could say yes, Farlan ended the radio call.

Farlan took exit twenty-nine into Irene.  He had a headache and stomach ache.  It was his nerves.  The thought that one of his citizens, or two or three, would have something to do with a major crime was upsetting.  Shooting deer out of season or not having your permit was one thing.  But murder?

He parked in front of the Sheriff’s Office and got out and walked inside.  The building was not large enough to hold fifty people. They were packed in tight.  Talking among them was so loud, few heard or saw the sheriff come in.  Farlan stood to the front and listened to them.  After a few minutes, Farlan cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled.

“Everyone step outside,” he said.  “And don’t even think about leaving.”  People started moving toward him.  “Wait.  Let me go first.”  He walked out onto the sidewalk.  “Keep going behind the building to the field.  There’s more room.”  There was an old baseball field behind the Sheriff’s building. 

Farlan waited until everyone was standing in front of him.  With his hands behind his back, he paced in front of the crowd.  He sighed and stared at them.  He made eye contact with a few and shook his head.  “I don’t need to tell you what you already know,” Farlan said.  “Do I?”

The faces in the crowd looked at him with blank stares.

“You think what you did was right?” Farlan asked.  No one spoke.  “You think you took the law into your own hands?”  He stopped pacing.  At seventy-five years old, he could have been a grandfather and father to almost all of them.  “Well, you didn’t!  You didn’t take the law into your own hands.  Because there was never any law to take.  The man was in compliance.  Not unlike any one of you who’ve been in this jail after getting shit-faced drunk.  The man was no different…”

“Now, you wait a minute!” Susan Pedden yelled.  She was a first-grade teacher and a sturdy woman who was at the front of the crowd.  “Damn you!  Sheriff Farlan.  Damn your soul!” 

“You better watch it, Susan!” Farlan said.  “I’m still the Sheriff.”

“You may be that,” Tom Buyer said.  He was a giant of a man and a farmer.  “But you’re not one of us.”

The words cut Farlan to the bone.  He had grown up in Irene.  All but three years of his life had been in Irene.  These people turning on him were his friends and neighbors.  They attended church together.  His children went to school with them.  He was them.  But he could not agree with them.

“You knew!” Franklin Beemer yelled.  He was eighty and small.  At one time, he was Irene’s Sheriff.  Later, he was one of their judges for twenty years.  “You sacrificed six-year-old Lilly Bailey, nine-year-old Josh Nonland, and eight-year-old Hannah Ellison.  And you call yourself one of us.  Then you compare our one night in jail for being drunk to a child killer.  You’re despicable!”  He spat on the ground.  “How could you?  How do you sleep?  Why didn’t you tell us?  Why didn’t you tell us who was in our midst?  Instead, you turned him loose on us.  Like we were….damn lambs going to the slaughter.  Which is what happened.  It’s what you helped him do.  You let a wolf enter among us in sheep clothing.  You led all three of those innocent children to the slaughterhouse.  You’re more of a monster than he was.”

“You said, ‘he was,’ ” Farlan said.  His sheriff’s radar was up.  “You said it in the past tense.  If you know something, any of you, you better tell.”

“You killed our kids,” Patty Ellison said.  She was the mother of eight-year-old Hannah.  Hannah was found dead in the next town over.  Patty broke down and cried.  Her knees went weak.  Two men rushed and held her up.  “You need to resign.  If you’re one of us, you need to let this go.  Wherever Gary Ketter is, is anyone’s guess.  But for us, we’ve moved on.  If you’re going to arrest us, arrest us.  Because none of us know anything.”

“The man did his time,” Farlan said.  “Before he got here, he did his time.  The law says he could be here.  We have to follow the law.  He was under investigation for our missing children.  The law was going to get him.  It’s not my fault for what he did.  It’s his.  And his alone.”

“You keep telling yourself that, Leroy,” Jake Johnson said.  Jake was eighty-two.  He knew Leroy Farlan all his life.  He helped campaign for each one of his elections.  Come on, guys.”  The people began to walk by Sheriff Leroy Farlan.  “Retire.  This isn’t your fight.  Let the state boys have this one.  They won’t find anything.  And you’ll live the life you wanted to live after retirement.”

Farlan lips trembled.  He had failed them.  They had every right to hate him.  He could only watch his friends and neighbors walk by him and away.  He took off his badge and stared at it.  A statistic ran through his mind.  He would just as soon forget it, but could not.

Two thousand children went missing every day.  When he learned of Gary Ketter’s background, he thought about doing away with him.  But he could not.  He could not force himself to break the law.  Ten years later, someone or some people did what he could not do.  How could he arrest them? How could he investigate his own people for doing what had to be done?

He put the badge in his pocket and walked back into the Sheriff’s office.  Maybe it was time for him to take that retirement.

This was a little more serious of a story than I thought it would be.

I still hope it was a good fiction story for you.

Take care.

See you soon.

Stephen Wallace

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