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

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.

Then it was on to other things, such as going home and catching up on her chores. There were places in her bathroom that were showing signs of turning into microbiology experiments. Some food in the refrigerator was already past that point; there was a partially-full half-gallon jug of cider that was well past that point. Lena started cleaning with a vengeance, interrupted only by Bucko who was making a pest of himself. Bucko apparently had an account of how much affection that he received and, to his mind, Lena was seriously behind in paying him tribute. Bucko changed his mind, though, when Lena started vacuuming the floors. He hated that machine.

Next was the mail. Her least favorite thing was sending in the check with the quarterly 1040-ES. Not that Lena begrudged the concept of taxes, but she hated paying them. Second least favorite was the cable bill; she made a mental note to cut back to the lowest tier of service. It’s not as though she watched the stupid idjit box that much to begin with.

There were other clients to deal with. This weekend was sort of booked for a surveillance detail, as part of a child custody fight. What was unusual was that she was supposed to follow the oldest kid. The husband’s lawyer’s thinking apparently was that if the husband could show that the mother let the oldest kid run around wild, then possibly the husband could get custody of the other four kids.

Lena hated getting involved in family fights. More than most cases, the people involved held grudges. She had the scars to prove it. When they didn’t try to get back at her in a physical way, they would run their mouths about that “commie slut-bitch of a gumshoe.” Her great-grandfather, a “White Russian”, had been known to take his cane to anyone who had the nerve to call him a “commie” or a “red”. But those cases paid and in these times, folding green paper covered over a lot of qualms.

The letters started coming back to her office in a week. Lena was astonished at the number of hunting accidents there had been. Quite a lot could be eliminated, though. There were idiots who had been up in tree stands, tied ropes to their rifles, and pulled them up without first unloading them– ending in rather predictable events once a twig had entered the trigger guard.

There were a few “trip-fall-bang” accidents where one hunter tripped and accidentally put a bullet into another hunter. There were more than a few of the “I thought he was a deer” shootings. Lena’s cynical view of her fellow humans would have led her to look hard at all of those, if she was investigating them. She’d bet money that there had been something going on between the vic and the shooter’s wife (outraged husband) or the shooter and the vic’s wife (sap of a husband). Or possibly the old western saying “where there’s a will, there’s bullets”. From the descriptions in the responses, a couple of them had resulted in pleas to misdemeanor manslaughter charges. But those were not the kinds of shootings that she was looking for.

Lena was tired. The surveillance jobs that she had taken were decent paying, but the hours were long and irregular. She turned out the light in her office. It was her intention to go home and get some rest. At least, that was her intention. She folded her arms on her desk, laid her head down and fell asleep.


The little chime alarm on her foyer door woke Lena up. It was almost full dark out, close to 6 PM. She quietly opened the right middle drawer of her desk, a steel box was bolted there. She hit the combination buttons, opened the lid and took out a revolver, an extra cartridge and a flashlight. The revolver had been given to her by her grandfather Alexander Ivanovich. It was his father’s gun, a Colt Frontier six-shooter in .44-40, the gun that Great- Grandfather Ivan had bought when he became a citizen.

Almost automatically, as Grandpa Sasha had taught her and drilled into her, she brought the hammer back to half-cock, rotated the cylinder one click, opened the loading gate, added a sixth round to its chamber, closed the gate, brought the hammer back to full-cock and then lowered it to the safety notch. It wasn’t something she had to think about. “Remember, Lenochka, always keep five in the revolver, for safety. But if you know that you may have to shoot, and if you have the time, completely load it.”

Whoever was out there started to fiddle with the door into her inner office. Lena dialed 9-1-1. When the dispatcher answered, Lena put down the revolver on her desk, cupped a hand around the handset transmitted, and whispered in that there was a burglar breaking into her office and gave the address. She then put the handset on the desk, picked up the gun and the flashlight and eased away from the window so that she wasn’t back-lit from the streetlights.

The sounds of the lock-fiddling continues, then the door popped open. Lena saw a shape standing there. She switched on the flashlight and yelled: “Freeze, Asshole!” Asshole didn’t freeze; he threw his pry-bar at Lena and then ran out the outer door. Lena heard him bounce off th wall in the hallway and then she could hear him running down the stairs, probably three or four steps at a time. From outside, Lena heard the sound of sirens; the dispatcher must have told the responding cops to step on it.

Lena picked up the telephone handset and told the dispatcher that the burglar had apparently left the building. Thirty seconds or so later, a county patrol car braked heavily outside of her window. She saw the deputy run to the front door and heard him come pounding up the stairs. “Lena,” he yelled, “You OK?”

“All clear,” she called back. The deputy came into her office, it was her cousin Sam. He holstered a pistol as he did so. Lena knew it was some flavor of Glock, the handgun popular with police agencies because the mighty FBI uses it.

“What happened,” Sam asked. She could see him glancing at the revolver on the desk.

Lena told him the tale.

Same was making some notes. “You got a description of this guy?”

Lena shrugged. “Six feet tall, or so, average build, white dude, dark clothes. I didn’t get a terribly good look at him.”

Sam used his rover to pass along the description. “Nice work, cousin, we’ll go arrest half of the guys out there.”

Lena bristled. “And what the hell was that with charging in all by yourself,” she all but yelled back. “You couldn’t wait for backup? Christ, Sam, you get your fool self killed rushing in all alone, what the hell am I supposed to say to Betsy and Ruth at your funeral?” Betsy was Sam’s wife, Ruth was his mother; Lena and Sam were second cousins. Sam’s grandmother was sister to her Grandfather Alexander. Sam’s side of the family had abandoned the tradition of using Russian first names two generations ago.

Sam sighed. “Yeah, I know. Don’t tell my mom or dad about it, please?”

Lena nodded and almost smiled to herself. Cousin Ruth would have been furious and her husband, Bill, who had retired from the state troopers six years ago, would have lectured Sam for weeks. “You going to process that crowbar for prints?”

Sam shook his head. “City cops will be here in a minute.” He looked again at the revolver. “Is that Great-grandpa’s Colt? You keep it in your office?”

Lena nodded.

“Please, Lena, take it home and lock it away. Go get something from Frank’s gun shop, something that it won’t be a big deal if it gets stolen. That pistol is probably worth five thousand bucks, not counting its family value.”

“OK, Sam. I’ll take it home tonight. Now, you know someone who can fix my door?”

Sam rooted around in a little case and produced a card for Benny’s Lock and Safe. Lena called the after-hours number. Joey, Benny’s son, said that he’d be by in an hour.

“Sam, you had dinner yet?” Sam hadn’t. Lena called a Chinese restaurant an placed an order. Sam hung around until a city cop deigned to come by and take the attempted burglary report. Lena didn’t know the city cop, but he was polite and he used an evidence bag to take away the pry-bar. Once the city cop left, Sam cleared the burglary call, called in a Code 7 and went to pick up the food.

As most people do, Sam and Lena shared each other’s entree. They finished by the time that Joey showed up to fix the door. Sam cleared the Code 7 and went back to work; Lena discussed options for both a quick fix and a long-term fix.

When Joey finished the temporary work, Lena, gathered up the Johnson file, her laptop and Grandfather Sasha’s gun. She took them all home with her. Bucko had not been happy that Lena was not home earlier to feed him, he had left some strategically placed turds lying around with the evident hope that she would step on them.

Lena fed Bucko, picked up the turds, took a shower and went to bed. Grandpa Sasha’s gun was on her night stand.

No comments: