Lena got up about an hour after she first went to bed. She opened her closet door, pushed aside some clothes, then opened her gun safe. After a little thought, she pulled out a Mossberg 20-gauge shotgun. Inside a box next to the safe, she found a mostly full box of No.2 buckshot loads. She slid five shells into the magazine and made sure that the safety was off. the shotgun went next to her bed. If she had to, all she had to do was rack the slide and it was rock-and-roll time. She slept better.
Bucko had her awake at 6:30 the following morning. It was still well before sunrise, but it was twilight. It was windy and snowing, maybe two inches had fallen. Lena cursed. Two inches of snow barely qualified as a “dusting” in these parts, but it would be enough to cover any tracks or other sign from the shooter. Without a hint of where the shooter had been, there was no reasonable way to search for the bullet he had fired. As far as the evidence was concerned, there was nothing to show that anything at all had happened last night. If she didn’t have relatives in the sheriff’s department, the whole episode would probably be filed as a report by a hysterical female with an overactive imagination.
She was starting to feel lethargic. Maybe it was time to sign up for an exercise class at the Petersburg Community Center. But in the meantime, she opted for a second cup of coffee before going into the office. The falling snow jogged her memory to check the level on her heating oil tank, which turned out to be close to halfway full. Great, she thought, that was going to be another $800. Because she lived in a rural area, the heating oil companies added a surcharge if they pumped less than 200 gallons a visit. If she was spending a day at home, she fired up a wood stove to help heat the house and save some money. But with this case, she wasn’t spending much time at home. Lena got dressed and put the shotgun back in the safe. When she got to her car, she put the Marlin back in its case. She wore the Bulldog. Her clothes from the day before were in a bag to go to the cleaner’s.
As her drive in took her near the airport, her phone beeped. Someone had evidently tried to call her as she was driving and she probably was in a dead zone for the phone. That was a significant problem in rural areas. The microcell base stations didn’t work with the satellite broadband services. Which is why some of the police departments had used Homeland Security money to buy sat phones for backup communications.
Lena pulled into the diner’s parking lot. Before she went in, she checked the message. It was from Ed and all he said was: “Call me, ASAP.”
She did. Ed must have had caller ID on his phone, for he picked it up and immediately said: “What happened last night?”
“Someone took a shot at me when I got out of my car to check the mail,” Lena said. She gave him a short summary of the event.
“You hurt? Any other damage?”
“No and no.” Lena didn’t think that Ed cared that she may have ruined some clothing.
“Any forensic evidence?”
“None at all.”
There was a few seconds of silence. “Do you have any indication that this might have been a stray round or, if someone took a shot at you, it wasn’t for another reason? Like a case you’re handling?”
“All I know for certain, Ed, is that someone shot a high-powered rifle and the bullet cane bloody close to me. It was after sunset, getting towards full dark, so whether someone tried to shoot me or it was a poacher who missed his deer, I can’t tell you.”
“OK. For now, I’m changing this matter to a need-to-know basis. We’ll scrub all mention of it from our database and move it to a more secure server. Betty will send you the instructions on how to access the files. You, me, Mac and Betty will be it for access for right now. You continue to look into the shootings, but you don’t share anything about the overall case with anybody without my say-so. Hold on a second, willya?’
Lena heard him put the phone down and yell: “Betty, get me a codeword for this file. .... Ready.... What? ... You’re serious?.... OK, dammit.” Ed picked the phone back up: “OK, for billing and administrative stuff, refer to Operation Thunderscreech.”
Lena was half-amused. “Is `Thunderscreech’ one word or two?”
“One.” Ed hung up. Lena disconnected and put the phone back into her purse. That’s how he was, at times, he finished what he needed to discuss and hung up without any pleasantries. How he managed the transition from cop to administrator was a mystery.
The diner appeared to have the usual crowd, but on second thought, Lena started up her car and drove out to Fast Food Alley. She hit the drive-through of one of them, for she didn’t feel like having to repeat the story of What Happened Last Night to half-a-dozen of the diner rats. Better to suffer the assault of a fast-food breakfast. But it was a pretty nasty sandwich and the coffee, while far better than it once was, was not terribly good. There had to be something that she could get and keep in her office.
Lena thought about calling the Johnsons, but she tabled that idea. The pure fact of the matter was that she was now going to see this through whether or not the Johnsons were able to pay. There was no doubt in her mind that the previous night’s little escapade was unrelated to the Johnson case. The law practice professor when she was in school cautioned repeatedly about not getting too involved in a case and never taking matters personally. But nobody had probably ever taken a shot at him and dammit, getting shot at kind of tended to make things personal in her mind. Somebody had once said, somewhere, that “if someone tries to kill you, you try and kill them back.” Lena vowed to try. Although, she had to admit, the idea of dropping someone into the state pen for several consecutive life terms was even more satisfying, for their misery would be enduring.
Lena swung by the dry cleaner. The woman at the desk clucked at the condition of her trousers and said that they’d try to get all of the crud out of them. That was good enough for Lena. At least she hadn’t torn them when she dropped to the ground.
Her Uncle Bill called her on her office line just after she started the coffee pot. This time, there was no Russian-language banter, just a question: “Are you OK?”
“I’m fine, Uncle Bill. Really. But while I’ve got you on the line, did anybody see anything unusual last night?”
“No, they didn’t. We had to pull the cars. The Royal Association of Former Alterboys got into a big fight at Skipper’s Grill last night. We had four cars there. One of the former alterboys got stabbed pretty bad and he had to be life-flighted to Edgarsville General.”
Lena knew that “former alterboys” was her uncle Bill’s favorite term for lowlifes of all stripes. Skipper’s Grill was a bar between Petersburg and the Interstate. During the day, it was a decent restaurant with possibly the best burgers in a hundred miles and the best catfish in ten counties. Lena ate there at least twice a month. After dark, it turned into a notorious bucket-o’-blood where it was more remarkable to have a night without any trouble than it was to have bloodshed between the patrons. The last sheriff had tried to close the place on a pretext; the county had lost a lawsuit and had to pay serious damages, for the owner of the place was diligent about obeying the liquor laws.
Bill continued on: “The staties, I’m sorry, your fellow officers in the State Police had a multiple car collision on I-96 West following the high-seed pursuit of a drunk driver, so they kind of all got sucked into dealing with that. So nobody was looking for whoever may have taken a shot at you.”
“I understand, Uncle Bill.”
“Good. Look, your Aunt Sue is cooking a roast for dinner, with all of the trimmings. She said to tell you that you’re to be here at four.”
“Is she making her cheesecake, too?”
“Hold on.... She says she is.”
“OK, Uncle Bill. Would you tell Aunt Sue to call me on my cell if she needs anything?”
“I will, but she’s going to say to just bring an appetite. “
”Thanks, see you then.” They said their goodbyes and hung up. Her aunt Sue and uncle Bill ate dinner early, so that Bill could have a solid meal before heading in for his shift. Bill had stepped in when her father had died when Lena was young. Grandpa Sasha had wanted to, but he was too old to care for a teenager with abandonment issues. But her grandfather was not too old to teach her things that he thought she should know, such as how to ride a horse and rope a steer, how to field-dress a deer and how to competently handle both handguns and long arms. Even in his seventies, Sasha had been a tough competitor in the three-position service rifle matches. Lena couldn’t match his skill or dedication to that sport.
Lena spent the rest of the day doing legal work. She had a custody hearing in the county court in Petersburg the following day, which would probably take most of the morning. The day after tomorrow, she planned to drive up to Potter County and look through their file on the shooting of one John S. Dyer, five years ago. She called the Chief Administrative Deputy in the Potter County Sheriff’s Department and made an appointment for ten that morning.