the spring of 1951, in Billings, Montana, a burly man got down off Northern Pacific's
"Mainstreeter" and checked into the Northern Hotel. That afternoon he took a
walk, an ordinary looking fellow in late middle age, wearing a business suit with a
nondescript blue necktie and gray fedora, smoking a cigar and blithely swinging a
briefcase. It wasn't an arduous walk, but it took a half-hour to reach a quiet residential
street and a pleasant bungalow. He let himself in through the wrought iron gate in the
yard fence and strolled casually up to the door. There was no answer to his ring. He stood
on the porch for a few minutes, gazing calmly about. There was no sign of activity on this
street of a few houses, but he knew from the twitch of a curtain or two that someone had
noticed his arrival. He didn't mind.
he stepped off the porch and strolled around to the back. There was a garage. He peeked in
the open backyard door. There was an odor of turpentine or some other chemical wafting out
onto the cool Montana air. An elderly man was there, working at a waist-high bench,
sanding a wooden kitchen chair. A shiny black 1948 Packard sedan was parked half-in and
half-out of the open doors of the garage, presumably for the benefit of better light and
ventilation for the task of refinishing the chair. The visitor entered and said hello.
The older man
looked up from his task, frowning. He was a bit stooped with age, but still tall and
seemingly in good health. He wore gold-rimmed glasses. His silver hair was sparse. He wore
an old pair of shapeless, stained khaki pants and a well-worn cardigan sweater over a
plaid shirt protected by a stained work apron. When he saw who it was he almost smiled.
brings you to Montana," he asked. "More information?"
less," the younger man said, hefting the briefcase. "Been going through the
archives," the old man said, sourly. He wiped his hands on a rag and hung it on a
nail driven into a bare wall stud. "Well, let's go into the house. I suppose I can
make some coffee. Or would you prefer a beer?" He untied the apron and folded it
carefully, then placed it on the workbench.
can talk here," the burly fellow said. "It won't take long. I've got to be going
on down the road. I just wanted to clear up a few things and then I thought you might help
us with a little problem we been having."
"Archives," the old man said, "why are you fellows always going on about
these damn archives?"
you know the Old Man," the visitor said, "he always liked to keep up the
archives. Said it was important."
"Archives can be dangerous things."
ever sees them, except me and a few others," the visitor said. "But you're
right: they could be dangerous if anyone ever subpoenaed them. There's stuff in there that
could indict a lot of powerful people."
is why they'll never be subpoenaed," the old man noted, drily. "Well, what's
your problem this time?"
Butte miners, circa 1912
|"The problem is Butte, August of 1917, and a
feller named Goodwin Ryder," the visitor said. He watched the old man's face
carefully. There was no sign of alarm or concern, even.
Ryder was nothing," the old man said. "Just a sometime agent. He was never
involved in much, and what he did get involved in he managed to bungle." This last
was spoken with at least a hint of contempt, but no anger. "Anyway, I understood he
was in prison. Good place for him."
is," the younger man agreed, "but that's the problem. He didn't testify about
the Agency, or about Frank Little, or about you, or me. But now he's sitting in prison,
eighteen months for contempt of court. What you might call a stand-up guy. But, you know
how it is ... a feller sits in prison for awhile and maybe he starts feeling bad for
himself. Maybe he starts talking. Or, in Goody's case, maybe he starts writing."
The old man
didn't seem to take this notion seriously. "Pshaw. Let him write. He writes pulp
detective stories, eh? Who would listen to a broken-down drunk like that? Anyway, what's
this have to do with the archives?"
a lot of folks would like to read just about anything Goodwin Ryder might write," the
visitor said. "Hell, I would. And maybe even his memoirs would be worth something. It
wouldn't do to stir things up. And the feller won't be in the pen forever, you know. As
for the archives, why there's a helluva lot in there about you. I been reading it
up." He hefted the briefcase, again.
The old man's
eyes narrowed. He considered the burly visitor for several long seconds. "What are
you on about?" he asked, finally. He leaned, as if casually, against the workbench.
His long, liver spotted hand rested on a claw hammer.
idea has come up that maybe Ryder would feel a little better if he had some kind of
document that absolved him from the Frank Little business. And maybe a pension."
pension! For that buffoon?" The old man snorted. "This is about as stupid as you
are. Whose idea was this? If the Old Man were still alive, he'd --."
Man's long gone," the visitor interrupted. "Prob'ly a good thing, too. That kind
of business is over ... or just about. Seems like there's always a few ragged ends to tidy
up, though -- no end to it, somehow. But it ain't the same business, these days, Mac. It's
a corporate business, now. Mostly what they call security. Very lucrative, too, and not
nearly so dangerous."