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.
Lena drove into the parking lot of Frank’s gun shop, sighed and got out of her car. At least he had sanded it, so it wasn’t a slippery mess. Frank was sort of a shirt-tail cousin by marriage. But that was no surprise, for both Great-Grandfather Ivan and Grandpa Sasha had raised very large families. She had a lot of cousins. Between cousins and marriages of cousins, if Lena threw a rock down the street in Petersburg or some of the other towns within fifty miles, she’d likely as not hit some flavor of relative. It was also, come to think of it, the main reason that she had never thought it necessary to pack heat. Oh, she had a carry permit, but she didn’t feel the need to carry. Until now.
Frank was not terribly surprised to see Lena walk into his store. She did stop by from time to time to chat, but this time he greeted her by saying: “Sam said that you might be stopping by to shop. He said you’re going to replace Sasha’s Colt.”
Lena sighed. “He said it’s worth too much to keep lying around in my desk. He think’s it’s worth five thousand.”
Frank shrugged. “Don’t know about that much, but it’s worth two or three, easy. It’s a prewar gun and those are good for some serious coin, not that you’d ever sell it. Anyway, here’s something you might like.” He reached into a display case and brought up a silver pistol, handing it to Lena. She looked it over, she had never seen one like it.
“What is this?”
“It’s an H&K P7. See, you squeeze the front strap of the gun when you hold it. That cocks the striker. Let go and it decocks. Fires a 9mm cartridge.”
Lena handed it back. “Look, I’ve never shot an automatic pistol, other than that .45 that Grandpa Volodia brought back from the Army. I’ve used revolvers. So what do you have that’s good?”
Frank made a face. He was thinking that Lena was some sort of throwback to the 1950s. He was also smart enough to keep that opinion to himself. “Well, you’ve got the standard J-frame Smith in .38 Special, ones some other companies make that are like it. They’re OK, I guess. I sell quite a few of them. People like them. But you know the second rule about a gunfight?”
Lena shook her head.
“Never bring a handgun whose caliber doesn’t start with a `4'.”
Lena didn’t feel the need to point out that Frank had first shown her a 9mm. “So what do you have with a ‛4’ in it?”
“Nothing in .40. They don’t make a small .41, either, so you’re kind of stuck with .44 Special. I’ve got a used Taurus and a couple of new Charter Arms Bulldogs in that caliber.”
Lena frowned. “And you recommend which and why?”
Frank shrugged and brought out two revolvers. “The Bulldog. The difference is people either love or hate Taurus. If you have a problem with them, their customer service kind of blows. Charter fixes their own stuff. As to which one of these, depends on how you’re going to carry it. The bobbed-hammer one doesn’t ride well in a shoulder holster, because there’s nothing for the strap to grab. If you’re going to put it in a pocket or purse, the bobbed-hammer one is better.
“Here, why don’t you take this one out back and try it out? I’ve got a few targets set up.” Frank gave Lena the bobbed-hammer gun, ten cartridges, a pair of safety glasses and ear-protectors.
Lena went out back and fired the Bulldog. It had a bit of a kick to it, but it would do. Frank sold it to her with a box of cartridges, a thing called a “speed-loader” and a clip-on holster. She was filling out the Federal paperwork and sighed. “I’m going to miss having Uncle Sasha’s gun in my desk.”
Frank brightened up. He went back into the back of the shop and came out with a box. “Then feast your eyes on this, Cuz,” he said as he opened the box. Inside was a single-action revolver, virtually identical to Sasha’s, other than being new. “Came in yesterday. It’s even a .44-40, just like Sasha’s.”
Lena glanced at it. “C’mon, Frank, I don’t know much about gun prices, but even I know that new Colt Peacemakers aren’t cheap. I can’t afford a new one.”
Frank smiled “Ah, but that’s the beauty of it, girl. This ain’t a Colt, it’s a Cimmaron.”
“A Cimmaron. Texas company. They buy parts from an Italian company, finish them up nice, put them together and sell them. Probably 40% or less of the price of a Colt.”
Frank handed it over to Lena. She hefted it. It felt like Sasha’s, all right, and had the same barrel length, just even with the end of the ejector rod housing. Frank continued on with his sales pitch: “Honestly, they’re not as nice as a Colt. Finish isn’t as good and the Colts feel a little nicer. But they’re decent guns and if they get dinged up, people don’t feel as bad about it, compared to dinging up a fourteen hundred dollar Colt.”
Lena winced at the price of a new Colt. “You really sell these things enough to justify stocking them?”
“Hell, you’d be surprised. ‛Cowboy Action Shooting’ is a popular sport, now. I put that revolver in my display case and it will be gone in a week, month, tops.”
“How much for it?”
Frank thought about it. “Five hundred? Of course, you really shouldn’t pick it up until next Tuesday. If you want both today, I have to report you to the Feds as a multiple handgun buyer and that’s a pain in the ass.”
Lena thought it over and remembered what her mother once told her: You’ll be dead for a long time. “OK, I’ll take both and I’ll come back for the Cimmaron.”
“You pay by check or cash and I’ll knock another four percent off everything,” Frank said happily. Lena nodded her assent and Frank totaled everything up. While Lena was writing out her check, Frank called in for the instant check for the gun sale. He got the approval as Lena ripped the check out of her checkbook and filled in her check register. He double-bagged everything for her and put it on the counter. “There you go. See you Tuesday.”
Lena nodded. “Say ‛hi’ to your mom for me.”
Frank winked and Lena left the store. She stopped at the diner for breakfast. There, Fredrika both gave her some good-natured grief about running late and enquired about the break-n the night before. The Range Telegraph was working at maximum efficiency, Fredrika knew everything that Lena did.
She had her usual order and flipped through the CPT. Nothing from her area made the paper. She’d have to wait for the biweekly Kingdom Gazette to come out. The KayGee didn’t have a web site. The publisher had once been asked about that; he’d replied that no dairy ever made money by giving out free milk.
Lena finished up, put down some money and left. By her reckoning, she had an hour before Benny was due to come by her office. She thought about things, then went out to her car, got the bar from Frank’s (which was emblazoned with a generic “thanks for your business”) and brought it into the bathroom. She locked the door, put on the holster and tried it with the unloaded revolver. It was hidden pretty well by her coat and probably even a light summer jacket would work. These days, between “Leatherman”-type knife-tools and smart phones, so many people wore so much crap around their waists that some people looked more like they had on Batman’s tool belt. Not that it mattered, it was legal to carry a gun openly. This would work.
Lena was loading the gun as someone knocked on the door. “I’ll be just a minute,” she called out, as she reached for the toilet’s handle to flush it. She put the Bulldog into the holster, put the other stuff back into the shopping bag, ran the water in the sink for a few seconds, then left the bathroom. She nodded at the somewhat surly teenager who was waiting to use the can. Lena didn’t know her.
Next stop was the Post Office. Lena picked up her mail from her box and was heading out the door when she saw the notice that carrying a weapon on postal property was a Federal crime. Oh well, she thought, next time she’d remember to stash the piece in her car. Her Grace County Reserve Deputy Sheriff’s badge probably wouldn’t cut any ice with a postal inspector. Not that Lena could ever remember hearing that a postal inspector had ever been in Petersburg.
She ast in her car and perused the mail. There were a couple more responses to her FOIS request letters. The Lewis County Sheriff’s Department had sent twenty pages of reports, along with a bill for ten dollars for copying costs. Everyone else so far had not asked for any payment for their responses. They were permitted by statute to charge for copying, but most agencies didn’t bother for small stuff because it was both a pain in the ass and it irritated citizens. The sheriff in Lewis County probably didn’t care about irritating anyone in Petersburg.
The other mail was mostly junk, including continuing legal education flyers from the state bar association. Lena was up to date there, the flyers and the other crap went into the trash bag that was looped over the gearshift.
Benny Schwartzkopf came by as Lena was reading some email. He looked at the damage to the inner door and clucked his tongue. “Ja, we can fix this,” he pronounced.” Benny had been in the country for fifty years, a citizen for forty, and he still sounded as though he had just disembarked from the boat from Dusseldorf.
“Can you make it stronger,” Lena wanted to know.
Benny shrugged. “Inner door, what’s the point? Crook makes it this far, he closes the outer door and takes his time. Better to make hallway door stronger. Good think this old building, we can do that.”
“What difference does it make, old building or a new one?” The words were out of Lena’s mouth before she remembered Benny’s tendency to pontificate. Shit.
“Interior is no good on new buildings. They build outer shell. Inside is sheet steel three-sided beams. They put up drywall on both sides, screw to the steel beams. Landlords like it; cheap to put up and tear down for reconfiguring. Tenants don’t care, walls get fresh paint. Crook who really wants in, five minutes to kick a hole through sheetrock, maybe less time. Might as well make the door out of balsa wood.
“No, this building--“ Benny took two steps to the wall and slammed his open hand against it. “Is old. Walls solid, made of lath and plaster, strong stuff. Why you see wiring and pipes outside of walls. We can put up door, looks like old wood door with pebbled-glass. Glass laminated, inner layers lexan, plastic, tough to break. Door made of steel, wood veneer. Strong hinges and dead-bolt lock, set deep into wall. Bad guy try to kick it in, he breaks his ankle. Even put crypto-lock, push buttons on it, like CIA.”
Benny named a price. Lena faked having a heart attack. Benny laughed and said: “OK, I work with you on this, payments over a year, no interest. Business expense.” He could see Lena was thinking about it. “And Joey getting married next year to Fredrika Anderson.”
“The waitress at the diner?”
“Ja, her. They buying a house out in Anderson County, old Tyler place. They going to need lawyer for that, also wills and other stuff. You do that for them, I take off cost of door, lock and installation.”
Lena knew something about Frederika. She figured that in a few years, she’d be doing Joey’s divorce. And she had three years left on the office lease. “OK, done. When can you install it?”
Benny thought that over. “Door special order, Joey come later to measure. Two weeks to get door in.” Then he added: “Door only good if you lock it.”
Lena rolled her eyes, Benny laughed and left her office. He probably heard the whole story from someone, he probably thought that the burglar didn’t see any lights and thought that he was hitting an empty office, maybe grab a laptop or something that could be fenced. It’s not like people remembered to lock the front door to the building after hours. A couple of the tenants even got pissed when the landlord started to ask people to do that.
And maybe Benny was right. Like a lot of rural states, the meth epidemic was hitting hard. Property crimes were getting frequent as addicts sought a quick score. When Lena was a kid, most everyone didn’t bother to lock their doors and at least half of them couldn’t have found their house keys if they wanted to lock up. Everyone left their cars unlocked. Women at a bar didn’t leave their handbags unattended. Guns were kept in safes, not in display racks. Times had changed.
Lena called her landlord to explain about the door. He was sympathetic and offered to knock a hundred bucks a month off her rent for the next year, which would help a lot. Lena didn’t think it was fair to ding him with the entire cost of th new door. He also said that he’d have the building maintenance man do a permanent fix of the inner door tomorrow.
So Lena put the stuff from the Jasper case aside. She had a motion to prepare in a child-custody fight. She spent most of the afternoon writing up a draft of it. There were a few students down at Grover Tech’s law school who did research for her; she e-mailed one of them and asked her to research case law for her motion. Lena highlighted different points in her motion for the researcher and attached that to her email. The kid got paid fifteen bucks an hour and it was something she could put on her resume. It was cheaper for the client and the law student had better research computer access than Lena did, so it was a good deal for all.