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.
The traffic on I-96 and I-27 was fairly light until she was within thirty miles of the capitol. Up in her area, the interstates tended to have exits at least ten miles apart, often further. For that reason, there was little local traffic on the super-highways and people only used them for going long distances. Down near Grover City, things changed, as they do in most populated areas.
Lena was within the beltway in three and a half hours. She went to a police supply store to find a better holster for her Bulldog and found an inside-the-waistband one that she liked. Then she went to a professional woman’s store to buy a black skirt and trousers to accommodate the holster. A brief talk with the manager and the flashing of her reserve deputy tin was all it took to discreetly be fitted for what she needed. They promised to have the trousers hemmed in two hours. Lena knew she needed jeans, as well, but those she could buy at Tractor Supply.
She had lunch at a Thai restaurant, only because that type of food was not available in Petersburg. Anna Feldberg, one of her classmates in high school, used to joke that if it hadn’t have been for the Jews in Petersburg, there would have been no Chinese restaurants. Lena didn’t understand the connection between Judaism and Chinese food, but she had the sense that it was one of the unknown mysteries of the Universe.
Lena called Ed’s office to find out if he was still on schedule. His assistant said that he was running thirty minutes behind. For a bureaucrat, that was pretty close to being on time, so she wrapped up her shopping at Trader Joe’s and headed downtown.
Security at the state capitol complex was as insane as it was everywhere else. Lena locked up her Bulldog in the car, along with her pen knife and nail file. She had to show photo ID, go through a metal detector and sign in. The guard frowned when he read her full name, but he wisely said nothing. He gave her a visitor’s pass, gave her directions to the captain’s office, and told her severely to stay in the hallways marked with a yellow stripe.
Lena rode the elevator up to the ninth floor of the state office building. She hated those elevators, for they had a weird sound that was like the sound of huge rubber bands stretching and releasing. Every time she used them, she had a mental image of a headline screaming “Six People Killed in Elevator Accident”. But, as they had every time before, they deposited Lena at her desired floor without incident. She found the office, checked in with Ed’s assistant and waited.
And waited. He was running an hour behind time. Lena didn’t let it get to her. She had brought a paperback book, just in case.
It was just after three PM when she was shown into Ed’s office. It was not the neatest office, there were files scattered here and there. Ed rose from behind his desk to come over for a hug. “Lena, it’s been a long time. How are you doing,” he asked.
“Oh, pretty good. You look like this job agrees with you.”
Ed laughed. “Yeah, I’m getting a little bit of a paunch, too.” In truth, Ed was developing quite a stomach. “I’m sorry to hear about your mother. I couldn’t get away for the funeral.”
Lena waved it off. “Thanks, but you didn’t need to be there.”
Ed sat down and pointed Lena to a chair. “So, what’s caused you to come all the way from Peterburg?”
Lena sat down. “I’ve got a series of shootings that may be related.”
“Is this why you talked to Dr. Parent some weeks ago?”
She wasn’t too terribly surprised to find out that he knew about that. “Indeed.”
“Tell me about it.”
“I was retained by the Johnson family in Gibson County to look into the shooting of their son last year in a hunting accident. He had been shot at long range, supposedly by a stray bullet. They were not sure of that. I then found out about a shooting in Lawson County two years prior with many of the same characteristics.”
“What are they?”
“Both victims were shot at very long range. Both were shot near sundown, as they returned to their vehicles. Both took one hit to the torso from an approximately thirty caliber bullet. Neither victim’s autopsy showed any sign that the bullet expanded on impact.
“Subsequently to that, I sent out FOIS requests to every law enforcement agency that I could find in the northern part of the state. In the last fifteen years, there may have been as many as sixteen such shootings.”
“What do you mean by ‛may be’? You aren’t sure?” Ed looked skeptical.
“No, because when I followed up on them, I got variations of answers such as ‛those files relate to an active investigation’, so I could not readily pursue them.”
“You have a list?” Lena handed it over.
Ed looked it over. “OK, so what do you want from me?”
“I need to either have access to those files or have you take this over.”
Ed picked up his phone, dialed a number, and said: “Mac, can you come up here for a minute? ... Yeah, now would be good. .. Good, thanks.” He hung up the phone. “Senior Lieutenant Ferdinand MacIntyre is running our homicide division. We all call him ‛Mac’.”
Mac was there in less than two minutes. Mac looked far older than Lena, and for all she knew, he was. Ed made the introductions, then he told Lena to tell the story again. Lena did so.
Mac whistled. “That’s a pretty good story. But shit, boss, we’ve got enough unsolved homicides that we know of, not to mention the ones that’ll be committed this month, to keep my guys working the overtime that they won’t gt paid. We don’t have the manpower to go kicking over these rocks.”
Ed nodded. “And yet, if the CPT or the TV reporters get wind of this, they will be climbing all over the Governor’s and the Commissioner’s asses about why some sniper is operating in the state and we didn’t do nothing about it.”
Mac winced. “And we all know what flows downhill. So what can we do about this hot turd that your girl, here, has dropped on us?” He glanced at Lena and added: “No offense.”
Ed thought for a minute. “Lena, you’re still a reserve deputy up in Grace County?’
“You current on your firearm qual?”
Lena nodded. “As of four months ago.”
Mac looked agitated. “Hey, boss, if you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking, won’t you be asking for a lot of trouble? Commish isn’t going to like this.”
Ed shook his head. “He’ll like it.”
“So we’re all on the same page, what are you guys talking about,” Lena wanted to know.
Ed smiled. “You’re going to be made a special investigator for the State Police. We’ll give you a badge, ID and a gas card. I’Il get Betty to order you a box of letterhead, so you can work out of your office in Petersburg.
“You just go ahead and send off the request letters again, only this time you’ll be asking as a state police investigator. You can refer them to Mac, here, if they want to verify things.” He picked up his handset and pushed a button on the cradle. “Betty, do the form to appoint Lena as a special investigator and walk it through with her. ... yes, badge and firearms authorization, she’s Sheriff’s Reserve up in Grace County. ... No, she has her own. ... Yes, today. Call those pricks in Personnel and tell them to do it, or I’ll get their boss to tell them. .. Fine.” He hung up. The people in Personnel will eat ground glass to avoid dealing with their boss, so this will be good.” Ed seemed almost pleased. “Anything else?”
Lena coughed. “Money?”
Ed shook his head. “You break this open, I’ll figure something out. For now, you are still working for your client, you just got the backing of the State Police to facilitate things.”
Lena thought that over. That meant that she wasn’t working for the State Police, which suited her to a T. “You’ve got a deal.”
Mac stood up, so did Lena. Ed offered his hand, Lena shook it. “You keep me in the loop.” He gave Lena a card. “That has my direct line and private e-mail on it, so stay in touch.”
“Will do, boss.” Lena smiled, Ed laughed and shook his head, knowing that the it would be a long day coming before he was her boss.
Outside Ed’s office, Mac touched Lena on the arm. “Look, anything you tell Ed, I want to know. This is my bird farm you’re working in.”
Lena nodded. Betty waved Lena over and held out her hand. “Betty McDougall. need to see your driver’s license and your sheriff’s ID.” Betty put them on her desk, called up a form on her computer and began typing rapidly. “What does the middle initial ‛S’ stand for?”
“Sergeyovna.” Lena spelled it.
Betty looked surprised for a second, then shrugged. “Place of birth?”
“Grace County Hospital, Petersburg.”
“Father and mother’s names, with maiden name for your mother?”
“Sergey Alexandrovich Smirnov and Jennifer Roberta Williams Smirnova.”
Betty ran through the other questions she needed, printed out the form and handed it to Lena. Lena looked it over and signed where Betty indicated. Betty then took the form in for Ed’s signature.
Betty then took Lena down to Personnel. Personnel made Lena fill out a W-4 form. They had her stand in front of a yellow backdrop and took her picture. Ten minutes later, she had an ID card, an access badge and a tin badge. Betty seemed to be kind of fidgety, but she obviously had instructions from her boss to make this happen and she dared not leave Lena alone.
Betty looked at the card. “Good. OK, you need to wear the access badge when you’re in this building and some others. Your ID card has a mag stripe that’ll get you in through the police entrance on the west side of the building and into most every other state police facility. I’ll walk you out to the entrance you came in through. You need to sign out there and return your visitor’s badge or they will go apeshit and no way you can find it on your own.”
Betty did just that. Lena thanked her and signed out of the building. Lena realized that it was after five. Crap. She found a café for a quick supper, more to let the traffic die down. Then she started home.
It was almost 10 when she got home. Although she had left plenty of kibble out for him, Bucko was not pleased. He had dropped a few turds around the house to let Lena know that He Was Not Amused. Lena fed him, then she brought in her purchases. Then she took a shower and went to bed.
It had been a long day.