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

Friday, September 30, 2011

Blood On the Snow, Chapter 11

NB: Names used in this chapter will not be consistent with earlier chapters. That'll be fixed in the full-length draft (which will eventually be available as an e-book).

Chapter 11

Lena waited until the following morning to set up her email program to receive and send emails from the State Police email server, though the first thing she did was, as Betty advised, was to log in through the web-based server and change her password. After doing that, she downloaded the emails. Crap, she thought, there were something like twenty of them. No way could she bill the Johnsons for doing any of this, she’d have to eat the time. Working for free tended to make her cranky.

One of the first emails that she read contained a link to a state software server and a suggestion that she download the encryption program contained on the site. She did that. The software was for a public/private key encryption scheme; it contained a severe warning to not forget one’s password, as the passwords were not recoverable. Lena doubted that, she didn’t believe that any government agency would buy an encryption program that did not have a “back door”. But maybe the state was too cheap to pay for such a feature. She made a mental note not to get too chummy or chatty in any emails on the state’s system.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Blood On the Snow, Chapter 10

NB: Early on, it was my intention that the protagonist would be a detective who had been a lawyer. But that ran into a problem, for she lives in a small town that is in a rural area, unlike, say, V. I. Warshawski. Unlike Kate Shugak, our hero does not live in a place where she can eke out a subsistence living if need be.

So she has to have another job, one that allows her the freedom to do detectifying when she needs to. So that is why in the latter chapters, there are details about her practicing law.

Chapter 10

It was Lena’s intention to sleep in the next morning. That actually happened, Bucko didn’t pester her for food. She had tried to ensure that by leaving food out for him overnight, which she normally did not. Cats being what they are, that trick didn’t always work. It did this time. She skipped her morning exercise, though she felt guilty about it because she hadn’t had the time yesterday. Too bad. She also skipped having breakfast at the diner, opting instead for some yogurt and cold cereal.

Her answering machine was blinking when she made it into her office. It was from Betty McDougall, she left a number and asked Lena to call her back. Lena picked up the phone and called the number.

Blood On the Snow, Chapter 9

On the appointed morning, Lena up early. She changed the litter in Bucko’s litter box and left him extra food. He had originally been an indoor-outdoor cat, but there were too many coy-dogs in the area. Lena was not at all interested in them making a meal of her cat, so she kept him inside. That had been a rather rough transition, but he was older now and seemed more interested in the life of ease of an indoor cat.

She was on the road by 7AM. Lena had created a summary of what she knew, which didn’t take up a lot of paper. While she didn’t think that Ed would stick with the ten minutes that she had been given, she couldn’t take the chance otherwise. Between pleasantries and the like, she guessed that she had five minutes at most to make her pitch. She took her digital recorder with her, as she needed to try to dictate a few letters during the drive. The software was maybe 98 to 99% accurate, but that still meant a maddening number of errors. Yet it was better than typing the whole bloody thing out.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Blood On the Snow, Chapter 8

NB: I am going back from time to time to review and revise what came before. The chapters that are posted will reflect those revisions of the earlier story line, but I will not be uploading the revisions. So if you read a chapter that doesn't quite hang with the earlier ones posted here, that is why.

Chapter 8

Lena had created a small spreadsheet so that she could keep track of the FOIS letters she had sent out and the response received. Most of the state and local government agencies had made their peace with the requirements for freedom of information and disclosures and complied. Those that didn’t eventually came around because the statute granted the requesting party the right to have their attorney’s fees paid by the losing government body if the requesting party sued. After the fourth or fifth county found themselves paying a couple hundred thousand dollars for both sets of lawyers, word got around.

Soon, Lena began sending out follow-up letters to the agencies that had not responded. Those letters quoted the FOIS, reminded the agencies of the “you lose, you pay” provision and included a copy of the original letter. That pried responses out of almost every agency left, until the only agency who had not responded was the state forestry service. That told Lena something, but she didn’t know what.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Blood On the Snow, Chapter 7

I should have explained this earlier: What you are reading is a first draft, as in I might not have even bothered to spell-check it. You won't see revisions and trust me on this, stuff is getting revised. For that, you'll have to buy the final copy (if it ever is published). So without further ado:

Chapter 7

Bucko let Lena sleep in a little the following morning, letting her sleep until 6:30. She fed him and then got in some exercise. She put Uncle Sasha’s revolver in her safe and considered what her choices were. Her problem was that while she had a few pistols, none were very suitable. There was a Union Switch and Signal .45 that her grandfather had brought home from the Army, a Smith & Wesson Model 19 .357 that her father had carried when he was a deputy sheriff, a S&W K-22 Masterpiece and a S&W Model 29. All of the revolvers, other than Uncle Sasha’s, had six inch barrels, the .45 weighed a ton to carry.

None of them were really suitable for Lena’s job, not that she thought that she needed a handgun for her work. Like a lot of people around her location, she had a rifle in the trunk of her car. It was a beat-up .30-30 Marlin 336 and she was by no means the original owner of that rifle. She made a mental note to do what Cousin Sam suggested and stop by Frank’s Guns and Bait on the way into town. After Lena took a shower, she called Benny’s Lock & Safe to talk to Benny. Benny agreed to meet her at her office around eleven; he promised to call if he was going to be late.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Blood On the Snow, Chapter 6

Lena went into the office and began compiling and organizing her notes of the trip to Jonesboro the next morning. She wrote down the details from the files and reproduced, as best she could, her conversation with Deputy Wilson. She then went down to the building’s basement, where each tenant had a lockable storage space, and brought up her white board. It was heavier than it looked, nearly the size of a sheet of plywood. Then she returned to the basement and brought up a sturdy easel.

The white board was her trial preparation board. When she was preparing for a trial, she would graph out the facts, the witnesses, the parties and the various stories. When she was done, it sometimes appeared as though someone had thrown handfuls of multi-colored spaghetti on the board. It helped her see patterns and relationships that were not always evident from transcripts and notes. The heaviness of the board was partially due to a thin sheet of steel that was laminated under the white surface. That allowed her to use magnets to hold papers and photos to the board.

It didn’t take Lena very long to put the facts that she had on the board, a depressingly little amount of time. She sighed and sat down at her computer to compose a FOIS request letter to law enforcement agencies. The letter referenced the freedom of information statute and asked for information regarding any hunting accident that involved the use of rifles within the last fifteen years. She sent the letter to every county sheriff, state police barracks, Fish & Game regional headquarters and rural town which had its own police department within the northern half of the state. While she hated the idea of the cost, she sent the letters by certified mail, in the hope that somebody would take note of them.