A blog where Stephanie M. Belser test-drives her fictional stories.
Expect the occasional
"stall, spin, crash & burn".

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Blood on the Snow, Chapter 3

    Lena told the boys that it was all right to go there, but they had to be back in a couple of hours.  Jason and Kyle went to put their snowmobile suits on and get the machines ready. 

    She then went into the kitchen and asked if she could take the reports with her for copying.  Mrs. Johnson smiled.  “I thought you might want a set.,” she said as she opened up a cupboard and pulled out a large manila envelope and handed it to Lena.  “You can just leave the other copies on the table.”

    Lena thanked her.  She gathered up her stuff, went to the mudroom and put on her outer clothes. The boys were pushing the snowmobiles out of a barn as she walked to her airplane.  She put her stuff back into the airplane, but she kept her camera.  After a few seconds thought, she took the GPS from the docking station in the panel.  Both the camera and the GPS went into inner pockets to keep them warm, As she closed the door, she heard one, then the second snowmobile start.

    She walked over to the boys, who by then were on the machines.  Each machine had a pair of snowshoes strapped to it.  Each also had a rifle scabbard, though the one on the machine that Kyle was riding was empty.  She pulled up the hood of her winter coat and fastened it in place, then got on behind Jason.  Lena wrapped her arms around his waist and the boys took off.

    At least Lena had Jason as a wind brake, for it felt bloody cold.  She had no idea at what speed the boys were going, but she knew that good snowmobiles could top 100 miles an hour. Most of the time, it seemed that the boys stuck to existing roads, but they did cut through some fields.  It was a bright day, the glare from the snow would have been intolerable if she wasn’t wearing sunglasses. 

    It was just about high noon. when they arrived at the scene of the shooting.  Jason slowly pulled the machine up to a stop, killed the engine and said: “This is where he fell.”

    Lena didn’t ask if he was sure.  For her purposes, a hundred feet either way didn’t matter a damn.

    “How deep is the snow here,” she asked.

    Jason shrugged.  He unstrapped one of the snowshoes, held it by the front and pushed the tail into the snow.  “At least three feet,” he pronounced.

    “Hand me those snowshoes, please,” Lena said.  Jason did, she strapped them on.  She got off the snowmobile and took a good look around.  The two boys stayed on their machines.

    The tree line that the boys had emerged from a year ago was about 100 yards away.  She didn’t see any paths into the trees.  She turned around to look to the east. They were in a meadow or pasture.  Maybe half-way down there was the hint of a fence, the snow had drifted to the top of it.  There was an opening that was probably a cattle guard.  Then there was another field, which ended in woods at the base of some hills.  Those hills were maybe a hundred or two hundred feet high.  Lena wished that she had a rangefinder, maybe a thousand or twelve hundred yards to the edge of the woods? 

    She took out her camera and made a panoramic photo of the location.  Then she took out her GPS and turned it on.  She saved her location as a waypoint.  Later, she would call up one of the aerial mapping programs and find out how far it was to those woods.

    She looked at Kyle.  “How far is it to the farm track where you saw the white truck?”

    Kyle thought for a few seconds.  “Two, three miles or so?”

    Lena pointed to the line of hills.  “On the other side of those hills?”

    “Yup.  The road from here goes between a couple of them.”

    “What was the weather like on that day, boys?”

    “Sunny, mostly.  Cold, not as bad as today, but in the 20s or so,” Jason answered.

    “Was there much of a wind?”

    “I’m not sure.”

    Lena pressed the point.  “You came out of the woods over there.  It was in shadow, the sun was behind the mountains.  Did it feel colder when you came out of the woods?”

    Kyle answered: “No, I don’t think it was windy.  Pretty calm, actually.”

    Lena nodded.  Even with no wind, that’d be a hell of a shot.  Not impossible, though.

    “OK, boys, I’ve seen enough.  Let’s go.”  She walked back to Jason’s snowmobile, saT down on the back, and took off the snowshoes.  Jason strapped them back down, both boys started up the machines and they rode back to the ranch house.

    When they got back, Lena went into the mudroom and called out to Mrs. Johnson to let her know that they were back.  “Do you have time for a cup of coffee,” was the rejoinder. Lena said sure, so she took off her coat and coveralls and hung them up, then took off her boots.  Her slippers were in the airplane, she padded into the kitchen in her sock feet.

    Lena asked Shirley Johnson about life on the ranch and Shirley asked about what Lena did for a living.  Stories were exchanged for a bit.  Lena watched as Shirley worked on a cake; she said that She had been doing a lot more baking of things like cookies and cakes in the last several months.

    Shirley Johnson had a presence, spirit, if you like, that was very common among farmers, ranchers and those who lived out where cable TV is unheard of and the nearest gas station can be twenty miles away.  It was an attitude that, no matter what life throws at you, you keep on going.  Lena had known people who had fallen apart, or come close to it, at the death of a child.  Shirley Johnson was of hardier stock. 

    But to Lena’s eye, it was more like case-hardening.  She thought that Shirley Johnson seemed a bit brittle under the surface, not that Lena was inclined to dig and find out.  She was Lena’s client and head-shrinking or psychic healing was not Lena’s job.  She had a case to investigate and that was all she wrote.

    Lena set down her coffee cup.  “It’s been nice talking to you, Shirley, but I have to get heading back to Petersberg before it gets too dark.”

    Shirley nodded.  “If you want to check the weather, there is a computer in the corner over there.”  She pointed across the kitchen to the family room.

    “You have good Internet service here,” Lena asked.

    “HughesNet, damn their eyes.”  Shirley pressed the intercom button.  “Boys, get off the Internet so Ms. Smirnova can check the weather.”

    “Mom, we’re studying!” came the protest back across the tinny speaker.  Shirley rolled her eyes and Lena grinned.

    Lena went into the family room, booted the computer and logged into DUAT for an updated weather briefing.  Nothing had changed from the forecast that morning.  She logged off, thanked Mrs. Johnson, put her winder duds on and went out to her airplane.

    Lena stowed the engine cover and preflighted the airplane, with the last step being to unplug the engine heater. Thanks to the engine heater, the airplane started up as though it were June.  She was up in the air in minutes.

    The flight back gave her time to think a bit about what she had seen.  She wasn’t willing to write off the idea that Jasper’s death was an unfortunate accident.  Rifle bullets can travel for two miles.  What she had was an incident, a datapoint.  If there was malevolence involved, chances are that there had been other incidents. 

    Well, that’s what she was being paid to do.

No comments: