“You wouldn’t happen to be Judge Keating, would you?” Barry asked the distinguished-looking, white-haired man standing in the hatchway of the plane.
The mustachioed gentleman glared down at the Sheriff. “I most certainly am. How may I assist you, Officer?”
Barry stopped beneath the older man and took off his hat to wipe his sweaty brow. “I’d like to ask you some questions, Judge. If you don’t mind.”
The Judge scowled. “Concerning?”
“Well, it’s about a murder case we’re working on. We have reason to believe that the helicopter you were flying in this morning might have been used by a fella named B.T. Saunders to commit several felonies. You wouldn’t happen to know Saunders, would you?”
The Judge took a sip of his beer before answering. “I believe he is a helicopter pilot for Arizona Strip Nuclear. I am a stockholder in that company and I have heard his name mentioned in the context of our mining operations.”
“Have you ever met him before?”
“It is entirely possible. What did you say your name was?”
“Sheriff Barry Smoot.”
“I may have met this Mr. Saunders before, Sheriff Smoot. I meet many people in my line of work. However, at my age, one tends to forget a large number of the names and faces.”
Barry smiled absent-mindedly; there was something about this man that he did not like. “You just getting back from the ASN mine?”
The Judge ran his right index finger along the rim of the beer bottle as he spoke. “That is correct. I try and stop in at the ASN mine every month or so, to see how the business is progressing. I met the head engineer at a new hole that is being drilled about thirty miles from the ASN office. I inspected the site with Mr. Todd Krieter for several hours, and then I flew back here to Kanab.”
“That’s a real nice plane you got there, Judge,” said Barry as he tucked in his shirttail.
“It is my pride and joy, Sheriff,” replied the Judge as he caressed the side of the plane.
“Mind if I come aboard and have a look around?”
The Judge frowned. “For what reason?”
“Well now, I noticed that you’ve got a lot of boxes inside there, and I was sort of wondering what you might be carrying?”
“Frankly, Sheriff, that is none of your business,” growled the Judge.
Barry’s eyes raised with interest. “People around here are usually more than happy to help the police do their job – except, of course, when they got something to hide.”
“You can save that kind of insulting talk for the locals, Sheriff. In America, a man has the right to his privacy. I am well within my rights to refuse your request to inspect my airplane.”
“Suit yourself,” replied Barry as he pulled a letter from his back pocket. “Would you mind telling me what’s in the boxes?”
The Judge blushed with anger as he began yelling at the policemen. “I most definitely mind, Officer Coot!” thundered the Judge, purposely mispronouncing the Sheriff’s name. “Do you have trouble understanding the English language, or are you just dim-witted?”
Barry’s jaw muscles tightened as he struggled to control his temper. It had been a long time since anyone, other than maybe a drunk, had addressed him in that tone. “I just asked you a simple question. If you don’t want to be neighborly, that’s fine, but you don’t have to get rude about it.”
“I pump a great deal of money into the local economy through my very substantial investments in the ASN mine. It is my way of being neighborly. As a retired federal judge, I not only have an excellent understanding of how the law works, but I also have a profound respect for individual freedom. I take great exception to any law enforcement officer who uses his position of authority and trust to intimidate his fellow citizens. And if you persist with your present line of questioning, I will be forced to take up this matter with your superiors.”
“That’s your right, Judge,” said Barry with a tight-lipped smile. “But I’m still awful darn curious why a fellow like you – a retired federal judge, and all – would refuse to help a police officer with a murder investigation?”
The Judge dismissed the sheriff with a wave of his left hand. “I have said all I care to say to you, Sheriff. Now if you would be so kind as to move your vehicle, I have important business elsewhere and would like to depart from this little paradise.”