“Is the President here, or something?”
Chad Williams, weary of hearing the question, scanned the horizon and inhaled deeply.
“No. The President isn’t in Montana.”
The rancher scrunched his eyes in confusion and spat off to the side. “So, why exactly are you here?”
“Money. Counterfeit money,” Williams replied.
The rancher, Devin McCaril, adjusted his hat and shifted his weight. His lean, fifty-year-old frame showed signs of supporting formidable muscles and the memories of how those muscles were obtained. Even as he rocked from one foot to the other, he seemed grounded firmly while standing here on his acres.
“How much money are we talking?” McCaril asked.
“Ten-thousand, so far,” Williams told him. “But every day more trickles in through the banks.”
The rancher cocked his head, the confused look returning. “And they sent a Secret Service agent all the way from Washington, D.C. to investigate?”
As McCaril asked the question, he’d shifted again ever so slightly. In fact, he had managed to shuffle several inches to his right since Williams had first walked up on the rancher who had been splitting firewood. Due to the almost imperceptible rotation the two had made, Williams’s back was no longer to a field; it was to the barn.
Answering McCaril’s question, Williams said, “I work out of Billings. The Secret Service has Field Offices all over the country.”
“Huh,” was all that the rancher said.
A hot wind swept past and Williams watched carefully as McCaril started to remove his work gloves, but stopped. It was the second time the man had done that – started to shed the gloves, but changed his mind. It was then Williams was sure he was in the right place.
A truck with a radio playing rolled by on a nearby dusty road. Voices from Montana Public Radio pushed through the open windows, and then were absent. In a blink of an eye, the men were once again alone with nothing more than a sharp wood-splitting axe between them.
“I’m not sure what I can do for you,” said McCaril. “I wouldn’t know anything about any fake money.”
Williams nodded. “It’s not a big thing out here. Well, at least not the serious counterfeit. With the way computers and printers are these days, anybody can print off a few twenties but the quality is poor. You see, it’s the wrong type of ink. It’s the wrong type of paper. None of the typical security features are in place.” The agent looked away and blew into his hands to combat the approaching cold. “No,” he said. “That’s not how the good stuff is made.”
“No?” McCaril asked.
“No,” said Williams. “Decent counterfeit is made with large offset printing presses. You know, the kind used in professional print shops. But those machines aren’t that easy to come by and the process is cumbersome. You need the right press; the right paper; metal plates containing the images of the bills. And you need lots and lots of ink. The kind that doesn’t rub off. The kind that seems to stick to everything – even your hands.”
McCaril spat again and pasted a smile on his face. “Well, I’ll be sure to look at the money when I get change back at the feed store.”
The agent shook his head and said, “Oh, it’s not just feed stores getting ripped-off. Would you believe piles of the bills turned up when the police uncovered a ring outside Helena that was dealing in stolen farm equipment?” Williams smiled, or tried to. “It turns out that someone was using counterfeit money to shortchange a bunch of thieves. Karma, I guess.
“Anyway,” Williams continued. “One of those boys mentioned a man from around here had bought a lot of re-appropriated equipment for cash lately. I went into town and asked about old print shops. It turns out there used to be one, but it closed down years ago.”
McCaril nodded. “It was my daddy’s.”
Williams let his right hand drop to his side and said, “So, I’ve got to ask you something. Do you want to take me to that printer you have in the barn, or are you going to go for that axe?”