His questions struck a nerve and began to sound like accusations. Divine Fury. Chapter 39

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A VG Serial: Divine Fury

Chapter 39

WHEN ENZO LEE set up the interview with Bud Walters at his office outside Salinas he told the secretary that he was covering the upcoming election for California’s next governor and wanted to talk to supporters of both Harper and Chapman, particularly business leaders.

He left San Francisco early knowing the normal two-hour drive could be longer with the rush-hour traffic slowing him on the way.

It was overcast when he arrived.  The Earth’s Own Produce operation was humming.  Empty trucks were lined up, waiting to be packed full with crates of lettuce, artichokes, cucumbers, spinach and radishes before they fanned out throughout the country.  He imagined some of the hardier vegetables might even get loaded on ships bound for Hawaii, if not all the way to Asia.

After a 10-minute wait in the outer office, Lee was ushered into Walters’ inside domain.  It was a modest, practical setup.  Wall paneling that you would find at the giant hardware stores.  Brown, short shag carpeting.  A few photographs from Southeast Asia – temples, women washing clothes, a group of rickshaws waiting for passengers.  Lee guessed Walters had vacationed in Thailand or somewhere similar recently.

Bud Walters sat behind a standard gray metal desk.  He had stacks of paper spread all around the desk and a credenza behind him.  He was heavyset with a ruddy complexion.  He wore an open shirt and a blue, medium-weight jacket.  Outside, Lee would have guessed he was one of the foremen.

After they exchanged business cards, Lee asked him some stock questions about the election.  Who did he support?  (Chapman.)  Why? (Good for business.  Family values.  Christian values.)  What about his peers in the area?  (He guessed 70-30 for Chapman.)

Then, Lee started talking about campaign events and what it was like to cover them.  He singled out Harper’s press event next to the artichoke field, not far away from where they were sitting at that moment.

“You probably heard about it,” said Lee.  “This crop duster came through and sprayed everyone.  It was horrible.  We didn’t know what kind of poison was being dumped on us.  One of the television reporters was pregnant.  She must be terrified.  I don’t know if they’ve determined yet what it was.”

Lee had noticed Walters start to fidget when he first brought up the Harper event.  He looked increasingly agitated the longer Lee talked about it, turning even more red in the face and fiddling with the papers on his desk.

“It was just smoke,” Walters finally said when Lee paused in his narration.  “It was just the stuff they use for skywriting.  Not anything real dangerous.”

Lee ignored the comment.

“You know,” he said.  “It seemed like the pilot was trying to hit us.  I mean he flew right over us and…bam!”

“No.  No,” said Walters.  “It was an accident.  I’m sure of it.  He was just working the fields and was a little off, or didn’t account for the wind drift.  It’s not a science, you know.  They make mistakes.”

“Hmmm,” said Lee.  “So why was he spraying the fields with skywriting smoke?  Is that a common practice?”

Walters just looked at him for a few seconds.  At first he looked stunned…then a little panicked.

“I…I…well, I don’t know,”  he said.  “I mean…I haven’t really thought about it.  It’s just…you know…stuff I’ve heard.  It’s a small town.”

“C’mon, Mr. Walters.  There’s more to it than that, isn’t there?” said Lee.  “Buzz Shelton was told to do it, right?  He was paid to do it, wasn’t he?”

“I…I…I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Walters.  He was in serious distress now and looked ready to bolt his own office.  “Look. I’ve got stuff to do here.  It’s a busy day.  I really need to get back to my business.”

“Okay,” said Lee.  “I’ll let you go…for now.  Oh.  Just one more question, though.  I saw your photograph outside on the wall with Jimmy Burgess, the televangelist.  Are you a supporter of his church?”

Lee thought maybe the shift in questioning would give the farmer some relief, let him change course from the obvious lies he was telling.  Walters’ reaction had told Lee what he needed to know, short of an actual admission of involvement in the crop-dusting incident, which he hadn’t really expected.  He didn’t want to end the interview on a ‘gotcha’ moment.  He’d probably want to talk to Walters again and it would be better to finish on a more pedestrian note so he’d take Lee’s next call.  Walters’ response surprised him.

“What are you saying!” he said.  “What are you accusing him…me of doing?  This has gone far enough!  You need to get out of here right now!”

Bud Walters stood up and pointed his finger toward the door to his office.  He was breathing hard and trembling so much it looked as though his finger was drawing a jagged circle in the air.

As soon as the door closed after Lee, Walters picked up his phone and dialed the offices of Soldiers of Christ Ministry.  He asked for Brent Daggart.  When told that Daggart was away, he asked for Rev. Burgess instead and was patched through immediately.

“Mission accomplished,” thought Lee as he got in his car and left the Earth’s Own Produce parking lot.  He was thinking about lunch in Salinas.  Maybe more chicken enchiladas before driving north.  An admission from Walters would, of course, have been great.  But he also knew that in situations such as this, sometimes just shaking the tree is enough.  Often good things fall out.

 

Chapters of the serial are published Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

You can learn more about Divine Fury on Amazon.

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