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|The Prey Series|
The Kidd Series
The Singular Menace
Wardell Holland, the mayor of Tarweveld, Minnesota, was sitting in the doublewide he rented from his mother, a Daisy match-grade pellet rifle in his hands, shooting flies. His mother suspected he let the flies in on purpose, so he could shoot at them. He denied it, but he was lying.
He was tracking a bull-sized bluebottle when the doorbell croaked. Like most other things in the place, there was something not quite right with the doorbell, but not quite wrong enough to fix. In this case, the doorbell probably indicated that the beer had arrived. The kid had taken his own sweet time about it; school had been out for an hour.
"Come in," he shouted.
The fly tracked out of the bedroom and lazily circled through the living room and toward the kitchen. He picked it up over the sights and the kid outside yelled, "Don't go shooting..."
POP! A clear miss. The fly juked as the pellet whipped past, then circled around the sink and out of sight. The pellet ricocheted once and stuck in the fiberboard closet door by the entrance.
"Hey! Hey! You crazy fuckin' pillhead, you're gonna put my eye out."
Holland shouted, "He's gone, you can come in."
John Jacob Skinner edged through the door, keeping an eye on Holland, who was sprawled on the couch, his prosthetic foot propped up on the arm, the rifle lying across his stomach. Skinner, who was seventeen, said, "Goddamnit, Wardell..."
"I won't shoot, even if I see him... though he is a trophy-sized beast."
Skinner eased into the room, carrying a six-pack of Coors Light. "You want one now or you want it in the refrigerator? They're cold."
"Now, of course. I shoot better with a little alcohol in me."
"Right." Skinner pulled loose two cans, tossed one to Holland, put four in the refrigerator, popped the top on the last one and took a drink.
Skinner resembled his name: he was six-foot-three, skinny, with long red hair that never seemed overly clean, a razor-thin face, prominent adam's apple and bony shoulders and hips. He had about a billion freckles.
He'd shown a minor talent for basketball in junior high, but had quit the game when he went to high school. He told friends that he needed non-school time to think, since it was impossible to think when he was actually in school.
The coach had asked, "Now what in the Sam Hill do you want to think for, Skinner? Where's that gonna get you?"
He didn't know the answer to that question, but he did know that being the second man on the lowest level, 1-A Border Conference would get him nowhere at all. He'd thought at least that far.
"One of these days," Skinner said to Holland, "You're gonna catch a ricochet in the dick. Then what? Army gonna give you a wooden cock?"
"Shut up," Holland said.
Holland had been elected mayor as a gag played by the voters of Tarweveld on the town's stuffed shirts. What made it even funnier was that after an unsuccessful first term, Holland was re-elected in a landslide. He'd run for office on a variety of slogans his minions had spray-painted on walls around town: "No more bullshit: we're fucked," "Beer Sales on Sunday," "I'll do what I can."
All of which outshone his opponent's "A Bright Future for Tarweveld," and "Happy Days Are Here Again."
This, in a town whose population had fallen from 829 in 2000 to 721 in the last census and now probably hovered around 650, leaving behind twenty or thirty empty houses and a bunch of empty apartments over the downtown stores. Half the stores were themselves shuttered and some had been simply abandoned by their owners, eventually and pointlessly taken by the county for lack of property tax payments.
This, in a town where, fifteen years earlier, the city council had purchased from the then-mayor, in a corrupt deal, a forty-acre tract on the edge of town. The town had run water and an electric cable out to it and advertised it on a lonely I-90 billboard as the Tarweveld Industrial Park. In fifteen years, it had not attracted a single business, and, in the estimation of voters, never would.
Holland, a former first lieutenant in the Army, had lost a foot in Afghanistan and lived on a military disability pension, which, in Tarweveld, was good enough. He'd refused the thirty-dollar-per-meeting mayor's salary and had rented out the industrial park to a local corn farmer, so the forty acres was finally producing a bit of money. Sixty-eight hundred dollars a year, to be exact.
When he was feeling industrious, Holland would limp around town with a weed-whacker, trimming weeds and brush from around stop signs, fire hydrants, and drainage ditches. Once a month or so, he'd run the town's riding lawn mower around the local park and Little League ball field, which was more than any other mayor had done. None of that took too long in a metropolis of 650 souls.
Skinner asked Holland, "Remember how you said you were gonna do what you can, for the town? When you were elected?"
"I was deeply sincere," Holland said, insincerely.
Skinner dragged a chair around from the breakfast bar, straddled it backwards, facing Holland on the couch, and said, "I was walking by the Catholic Church last night."
"Good," Holland said. And, "Why don't you open the door and let a couple more flies in? I'm running out of game and that big bastard's hiding."
"There was some Mexicans coming out of the church," Skinner continued. "They're meeting there on Wednesday nights. Praying and shit."
"I knew that," Holland said. He was distracted, as the bull bluebottle hove into view. He lifted the rifle.
Skinner said, "Honest to God, Holland, you shoot that rifle, I'm gonna take this fuckin' can of beer and I'm gonna sink it in your fuckin' forehead. Put that rifle down and listen to what I'm saying."
The fly reversed itself and disappeared and Holland took the rifle down. "You were walking by the Catholic Church..."
The church had been all but abandoned by the archdiocese. Not enough Catholics to keep it going and not enough local hippies to buy it as a dance studio or enough prostitutes to buy it as a massage parlor. There was a packing plant forty miles down the Interstate, though, with lots of Mexican workers, and the housing was cheap enough in Tarweveld that it had lately attracted two dozen of the larger Mexican families.
The diocese had given a key to the church to a representative of the Tarweveld Mexicans, who were doing a bit to maintain it and to pay the liability insurance. Every once in a while, a Spanish-speaking priest from Minneapolis would drop by to say a Mass.
Skinner: "I got to thinking..."
"Man, that always makes me nervous," Holland said. "Know what I'm saying?"
"What I thought of was, how to make Tarweveld the busiest town on the prairie. Big money for everybody. For a long time. We could get a cut ourselves, if we could buy out Henry Morganstat. Could we get a mortgage, you think?"
Holland sighed. "I got no idea how a seventeen-year old high school kid could be so full of shit, as you are. A hundred and sixty pounds of shit in a twelve-pound bag. So tell me, then finish your beer, and go away, and leave me with my fly."
Skinner told him.
Holland had nothing to say for a long time. He stared across the space between them and finally said, "Jesus Christ, that could work, J.J. You say it'd cost six hundred dollars? I mean, I got six hundred dollars. I'd have to look some stuff up on the Internet. And that thing about buying out Henry... I think he'd take twenty grand for the place. I got the GI Bill and my mother would probably loan me enough for the rest, at nine percent, the miserable bitch, but... Jesus Christ."
"I'd want piece of the action," Skinner said.
"Well, of course. You came up with the idea, I'll come up with the money. We go fifty-fifty," Holland said.
"That's good. I'd hate to get everything in place and then have to blackmail you for a share," Skinner said.
Holland's eyes narrowed: "We gotta talk to some guys..."
Skinner said, "We can't talk to any guys. This is you and me... If we..." He realized that Holland's eyes were tracking past him and he turned and saw the fly headed back to the kitchen. "Goddamnit Holland, look at me. We're talking about saving the town, here. Making big money, too."
Holland said, "We'll have to tell at least one more person. We need a woman."
Skinner scratched his nose. "Yeah. I thought of that. There's Jennie. She can keep her mouth shut."
"You still nailin' her?"
"From time to time, yeah, when Larry isn't around."
"You know, you're gonna knock her up sooner or later," Holland said. "She's ripe as a plum and I'd guess her baby clock is about to go off. What is she, anyway, thirty-three? When that red-haired bun pops outa the oven, you best be on a Greyhound to Hawaii."
"Yeah, yeah, maybe, but she'd do this, and she'd be perfect. Who else would we get, anyway?"
"I dunno, I..."
The fly tracked around the room again and Holland said, "Shhhh... he's gonna land." He lifted the rifle and pointed it over Skinner's shoulder toward the sink. Skinner lurched forward onto the floor to get down and out of the way, as Holland pulled the trigger.
The fly disappeared in a puff of fly guts and broken wings.
Holland looked down at Skinner and whispered, "Got him. It's like... it's like some kinda sign."
Five months later, Mayor Wardell Holland told Virgil Flowers that there weren't any available motel rooms in Tarweveld and not even over in Blue Earth, down I-90. He'd checked. "Your best bet is Mankato. It's an hour away."
"I live in Mankato," Virgil said. "That's my best shot?"
"Well, we've only got one operating motel, Tarweveld Inn. It's booked solid five months out, with a waiting list. There's a Motel 6 coming on line in a couple of months, but that won't help. You need to get down here. And I mean, right now. Today!"
"I didn't know things were that tight," Virgil said. "I can do it, but it'll be a pain in the ass, driving back and forth every day."
"Okay, had a thought," Holland said. "Let me make a call gimme ten minutes."
Virgil hung up, dropped the phone in his pocket, dragged a spoon through the stove-top pot of Cream of Wheat, and shouted, "It's ready." At his knee, Honus the yellow dog looked up anxiously, always worried that he wouldn't get his fair share, although he always did.
A moment later, Frankie Nobles eased into the kitchen, barefoot, wearing a pink quilted housecoat straight out of Target. She was a short blond woman, busty, with a slender waist, and normally rosy-cheeked. On this morning, her face was a greenish white and she had one hand on her stomach. "Why don't I remember these parts? Five kids and I never remember."
Morning sickness. She burped and grimaced.
She thought for a second, said, "About a four on a scale of one-to-ten. That's not too bad. When I get to a seven, you'll know it."
Virgil was spooning the Cream of Wheat into a bowl: "Tell me when."
"Keep going," she said. "I'm starving. At least, I can keep that stuff down."
All three of them, Virgil, Frankie and Honus the yellow dog were eating Cream of Wheat, and two of them were reading different pieces of the Free Press when Holland called back. "Okay, I got you a place. Mother-in-law apartment of the local hairdresser and her husband. Separate entrance and you get a refrigerator and a microwave. Nice folks. Fifty bucks a day. Extra ten for housekeeping if you want it."
"Aw, jeez, I dunno," Virgil said. "What happened to the mother-in-law?"
"Dead. Choked to death on one of those vegan fake-meat burgers, that was a few years back. And listen, this place isn't exactly what you might think it's not a dump in the basement. They've been renting it out to pilgrims, fixed it up nice. I've seen it. The only reason it's available is, Roy's picky about who they rent it to."
"All right. I'll take it," Virgil said. "I'll be there by noon. Where will I find you?"
"I run the local store," the mayor said. "We're a block north of downtown, across from the Catholic Church. Skinner & Holland, Eats and Souvenirs. You can't miss it."
"When will you be back?" Frankie asked, when Virgil was off the phone.
"Any time you need me it's only an hour from here," Virgil said. "With lights and siren, fifty minutes, max."
"I'll be out at the farm, the boys can take care of me," she said. They were sitting in Virgil's kitchen, the May sunlight streaming through the window over the sink, a pretty Sunday morning in Mankato.
Less than a month away from summer and the longest day of the year, the spring so far had been cool and generously wet, without being offensive, and through the window they could see the pink blossoms on the neighbor's apple tree. "It'll be a nice drive down there. You be careful. I always worry when you're dealing with a nut."
"We don't know he's a nut. Or she," Virgil said. "Could be a woman."
"Not likely. When was the last time you heard of a random sniper who was female?"
"Don't even know he's a sniper," Virgil said. "There might be a motive that ties the two shootings together. That would make him a shooter, but not a random sniper."
"You said 'he' and 'him,'" Frankie pointed out.
"That's because you're right," Virgil said. "It's a guy."
Frankie went to shower and get dressed while Virgil got his traveling gear together, which, as usual, bummed out Honus. Honus was a yellow dog of no specific breed, although there had to be some Labrador DNA in the mix: he loved to go out to the swimming hole. That wouldn't happen for another few weeks, as the water coming out of the uphill spring was essentially liquid ice.
Virgil gave him a scratch, then roughed up his head. He was getting neurotic about the dog, which the dog took advantage of. Frankie never made him feel bad about going out on a case, and she loved to hear about them afterwards. Honus, on the other hand, always acted like This Was It: Virgil was ditching him, never to play baseball again. The dog could chase down grounders forever.
Virgil was a tall man, thin, athletic, with longish blond hair and an easy smile. He was wearing a 'got mule' t-shirt, purchased in the parking lot at a Gov't Mule show a year earlier in Des Moines; an inky blue corduroy sport coat; and boot-cut blue jeans over cordovan cowboy boots.
As an agent of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, he should have been wearing a suit with a blue or white oxford-cloth shirt, a dull but coordinated nylon necktie and black high-polished wingtips. What the BCA didn't know, he figured, couldn't hurt him.
Since he'd be close to home, he packed only one extra pair of jeans, with five days' worth of everything else. To the clothing, he added a pump shotgun and a box of shells. A Glock 9mm semi-automatic pistol went in his Tahoe's gun safe with two extra magazines. If he needed more than fifty-one shots at somebody, he deserved to die.
When he was packed, he considered the boat. He rarely went anywhere in Minnesota without towing the boat, in case an emergency fishing opportunity should jump out in front of him. This time, though, he decided to leave it. There wasn't fishable water anywhere near Tarweveld, unless you liked carp and bullheads, and he was only an hour from home. If he needed to, he could always come and get the boat.
Frankie reappeared to kiss him good-bye and give him a few more minutes of essential advice: "Don't get shot. With your rug-rat chewing on my ankles, I'm gonna need your help."
"I'll be back for the ultra-sound, even if I haven't gotten anywhere on the shooting."
"Better be," she said. The ultra-sound was scheduled for the following week.
Virgil rubbed his chin on Honus the yellow dog's forehead and then he was on his way, turning south down Highway 169 and out of town.
Virgil had passed through Tarweveld a couple of times, but had never stopped. He knew little about the place, other than what he'd read in the newspaper stories, of which there had been many in the past few months: it had been settled by Dutch pioneers in the 19th Century, who gave the town its name, which meant "wheatfield." The Dutch were followed by a bunch of Bavarians and finally a few Irish. About every other lawn had a miniature Dutch windmill on it, the product of a manic carpenter who loved building windmills and insisted on doing it.
Like a lot of prairie towns, Tarweveld had been dying. Minnesota and the surrounding states had plenty of jobs Minnesota's unemployment rate was three percent, and Iowa's was even lower, down in the two's. The problem was, the jobs were in larger towns, and the small towns had less and less to offer their residents, especially the younger ones.
Tarweveld had reached its peak population of 1,500 as a farm-service center after World War II. The Interstate had severely damaged its businesses it was too easy to get to larger towns and a regional Walmart had pretty much finished them off. There was still a cafe and a gas station and a hardware store and a couple of other businesses, but they'd been moribund as well.
Not anymore, thanks be to God.
The previous winter, on a Wednesday night between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Virgin Mary had appeared at St. Mary's Catholic Church to a congregation of mostly Mexican worshippers, with a few devout Anglos mixed in. Unlike other Marian Apparitions, as her appearances were called, this one had been documented by numerous cell phone cameras.
The night after the first apparition, the church had been jammed with worshippers and the simply curious, as word of the miracle spread. There had not yet been a priest in attendance, so a deacon was presiding when the Virgin appeared the second time, floating in the air behind the altar.
The Virgin spoke: According to television commentators on Telemundo, she said, "Bienaventurados los mansos, porque ellos heredaran la tierra" or, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." The same commentators said the Virgin didn't have a very good accent in any dialect of Spanish that they knew of, but somebody quickly pointed out that she couldn't be expected to, since her native language would have been Aramaic; or, perhaps, she was speaking a form that would have been closer to Latin. A few skeptics suggested a more local accent, more of a oodala-oodala-oodala Minnesota version of Spanish.
A panel of experts convened by CNN agreed that the Virgin's appearance could cost Donald Trump three to four percentage points in the next presidential election by encouraging meek female voters who wished to inherit the earth. A similar panel on Fox argued her appearance would certainly increase the vote for Donald Trump, possibly by as much as five percentage points, by encouraging the religious right.
A television reporter from the Twin Cities had been interviewing people outside the church when the second apparition occurred, and when worshippers began screaming, she rushed inside. Her cameraman tripped and fell going up the stairs, was nearly trampled by people fighting to get past him. He managed to get video of only the very end of the apparition as the figure of the Virgin faded away.
But he got something.
The reporter herself had seen and heard the Virgin.
At the end of her report, she had tearfully confessed, "I came to St. Mary's as a non believer, but now..." She fell to her knees: "I believe. I BELIEVE!"
She went worldwide, and a week later was offered a job as a weather girl on an LA television station, an offer she accepted.
As Virgil rolled past a million acres of newly sprouted cornfields toward Tarweveld, he realized that there were damn few wheatfields around anymore. Everything had gone to beans and corn. A patch of oats might pop up here and there, recognizable by its bluish tint, and there were spotty plots of commercial vegetables cucumbers, string beans but that was about it.
On the animal side, there were pigs and cows and some hobby horses.
One interesting thing about spring, Virgil thought, especially a wet one, was how you could identify the livestock without ever seeing them. Cow shit was a definite stink, but a tolerable one. Pig shit, on the other hand, wasn't tolerable: it had a hard ammonia overtone that made the nostrils seize up. Chicken shit had an unpleasant edge, like when damp pin feathers were scorched off a roaster's carcass; horseshit, on the other hand, was almost sweet, if not actually cheerful.
He thought about it as the car rolled through a swampy smell, and decided he might have been working out in the countryside a tad too long, when he began comparing and contrasting the different varieties of livestock odors.
He switched to contemplating the appearance of the Blessed Virgin. Virgil's father was a Lutheran minister and Virgil had gone to church almost every Sunday and Wednesday from the time he was born until he went to the University of Minnesota. At the university, he'd lost his faith in churches as bureaucratic organizations, but hadn't entirely lost his faith in God: if you spent time immersed in nature, you simply saw too many wonders to casually dismiss the possibility of a deity, in his opinion. Think about a solar eclipse for a while...
About the Virgin Mary, he was agnostic. The Lutheran Church, in the years he'd spent with it, seemed confused on the subject of Mary. But: if Mary was actually out there somewhere, as a spirit, it didn't seem completely unreasonable that she might decide to appear from time to time.
On the other hand, most Marian Apparitions he'd looked it up on the Wiki seemed to present themselves to children or deeply religious folk whose testimony was accepted on the basis of faith, rather than hard evidence. Skeptics might ascribe them to religion-based psychological phenomena, or a kind of hysteria, if not outright fraud.
Tarweveld was a whole new kind of apparition: the crowd was large, not uniformly religious and armed with cell phone cameras.
Virgil crossed I-90 and ten minutes later entered Tarweveld. Most similar small prairie towns resembled the main street in the movie High Noon before the shooting started a line of ramshackle stores with empty streets. Tarweveld had all the ramshackle you could hope for, but was busy. Even six blocks out, he could see people crossing Main Street and walking along the sidewalks, and cars lining in the block-long business district.
St. Mary's was located at one end of a block with another church on the other end, and a flat green lawn between them. A wooden windmill squatted in the middle of the lawn, looking a lot like a pastel red-white-and-blue two-story fire hydrant, with ten-foot-long vanes that rotated slowly in the breeze. There were no parking spaces on the street, so Virgil drove around the corner, past the Immanuel Reformed Church. Both churches had parking lots in back. Virgil squeezed into the one behind St. Mary's with fifteen other vehicles.
He got out, looked around to orient himself, walked past the church and spotted Skinner & Holland, Eats and Souvenirs, across the street. He let a couple of cars go past, hurried across and went inside. The place was packed: Two women were looking at a rack of three-dimensional post cards with photographs of the apparition, several other people were buying soft drinks and snacks and frozen ice cream cones. A tall thin freckled kid was manning the cash register, keeping up a steady sales patter with the customers. Virgil took a Diet Coke out of a cooler, got in line, and when his turn came, gave the kid a five-dollar bill and said, "I'm looking for Wardell Holland. I'm with the BCA."
The kid nodded and turned and shouted, "Wardell! The cop is here."
Virgil said, mildly, and in the spirit of educating the young, "Not all cops like to be called cops."
"I heard that," the kid said, handing Virgil his change. "I figure they got bigger problems to deal with, than me calling them cops. I'm Skinner, by the way."
Holland pushed through a curtain that closed off the back of the store, looked toward Virgil and asked, "Virgil?"
"That's me," Virgil said. They shook hands and Holland said, "Come on back. I'd have given you a free Coke, but Skinner..."
Virgil looked back at the kid. "He doesn't like cops?"
"When we had a town cop that was a few years ago he'd give Skinner a hard time every time he saw him."
"For what? Dope?"
"No, Skinner would be out driving his girlfriends around and the guy would pull him over. Every time. He'd yank him out of the car and yell at him," Holland said. "Embarrass him. Skinner hasn't had much time for cops ever since."
"I don't blame him," Virgil said, as he followed Holland through the curtain into the back room. Virgil had had some youthful problems with cops himself. "The cop sounds like a jerk."
"Well, Skinner usually had an open beer or something... and then, he was twelve at the time."
Holland was Virgil's height, heavier in the chest and shoulders, clean-shaven with reddish brown-hair; he was wearing a blue work shirt and jeans, and one boot; his other foot had been replaced with a flexible curved sickle-shaped piece of black metal. He waved Virgil at a well-used green easy chair and took a matching chair on the other side of a battered round coffee table. The back room was mostly used for storage, stacks of cardboard cartons full of chips and soft drinks and beer, and smelled exactly like that: cardboard and beer, with an undertone of pizza. In addition to the easy chairs, four more chairs, no two alike, were arranged around a card table, with a microwave on a shelf over a sink on the back wall. The room was apparently used for employee breaks.
"Sheriff will be here in five minutes," Holland said. "We're seriously worried. Right on the edge of desperate. The sheriff says you're the man for the job."
"Nice of him," Virgil said. "I heard about the first shooting, but nobody called us."
"We thought it might be accidental. Lots of hunters around here and nobody heard the shot or had any idea where it came from. Could have come from a mile away," Holland said. "The guy who got shot his name was Harvey Coates and he and his wife were here from Dubuque wasn't hurt all that bad. I mean, bad enough, but he won't be crippled or anything. Dimples on his thigh, is all, after he heals up. Two inches lower, and he would have lost a knee. Anyway, we didn't have any clues, didn't have a slug... Not much we could do and besides, like I said, we thought it might be an accident. We asked the shooter to come forward, but nobody did. That's now starting to look... idiotic. We should have called you guys."
"Huh. Then yesterday..."
"Same deal," Holland said. "Even the exact same time, 4:15 or a minute or two after that, just before the first evening service at St. Mary's. The second time the shooter, whoever he is, took out a woman. She got hit in the hip, the shot went all the way through. She won't die, either, but she's in a lot worse shape than Coates. She's over at the Mayo, she's got bone splinters all through her pelvic area, busted the ball in her hip joint. She's gonna need a full hip replacement before she can walk again."
"You say there's no bullet?"
"Nothing. No idea of where it ended up," Holland said. "Both times, the people were waiting at the corner and they were all talking with each other, and turning this way and that. We know where the slugs entered and exited, but since we don't know their exact position, exactly how they were standing, we don't have a good idea of exactly where the bullet came from. The deputies talked to both of the victims and they don't know themselves, how they were standing. I believe..."
From outside, Skinner shouted, "Wardell! 'Nother cop!"
"Gotta be the sheriff," Holland said. He heaved himself out of the chair and went to the curtain and called, "Karl. Back here."
Karl Zimmer came though the curtains, spotted Virgil and said, "It's that fuckin' Flowers. Nice to see you, Virgie."
"Karl," Virgil said, as they shook hands. "I heard you sank your boat."
"That's not a happy subject," Zimmer said. He was a tall man with a gray crew cut and gold-rimmed glasses, wearing a tan Carhartt canvas jacket with a badge sewn on the left side. He looked around, picked up a kitchen chair as Holland sank back into his easy chair. "My kid was over on the Cedar, hit a snag, ripped a hole in the hull. Instead of beaching it, he tried to run back to the ramp. Sank it with the engine running full-bore, which didn't do it a hell of a lot of good."
"Insurance?" Virgil asked.
"Well, we're arguing about the engine," Zimmer said. "The Farmers' guy said hitting the snag and putting a hole in the boat was an accident, but wrecking the motor was negligence. We'll get something, but I don't think we'll get it all. Two-year-old Yamaha V-Max 175."
"Ouch," Virgil said.
"Yeah. But, you know, shit happens. Did Wardell tell you all about the shootings?"
"He's started to fill me in," Virgil said.
The woman who'd been shot the day before was named Betty Rice and she'd been in town for two days, going to all the church services at St. Mary's, hoping for an apparition. "She was over from Sioux Falls with her sister and a friend, never been here before. None of them had been. Same with the fellow who got shot last week," Zimmer said.
"You didn't call for a crime scene team?"
"What'd be the point?" Zimmer asked. "We don't know where the shooter was, we don't know where the bullet went."
"Crime seen might've been able to tell where the bullet came from by looking at the blood spatter," Virgil said.
Zimmer shook his head. "We thought about that. The fact was, after she got hit, everybody went running and when nobody else got shot, they all came running back. This was on the grass over there. Everybody was calling for doctors and police and by the time things got sorted out, the whole area had been trampled over for an hour and they'd moved the woman around a couple of times and she was bleeding bad... Virgil, I'm saying we had a bloody mudhole and you couldn't tell anything in there."
Virgil nodded: "Okay."
Holland said, "I think the shot came down the street from the business district. Maybe from a two-story building on the east side of the street. There are only a dozen of those, but most of the top rooms are still empty. Some of them are being rehabbed for rent, and the walls are open for the construction work. Guy could get up there and have a pretty nice sniper's nest. I borrowed one of Karl's deputies and we walked up and down over there, never found anything no shells, nothing. From the wound, I suspect both people were shot with a .223. Small entry, bigger exit but not all that big. About as big around as your middle finger, clean on the edges. So: powerful, small caliber, full-metal-jacket slug. Maybe military ammo or target stuff."
"You know a lot about it," Virgil said.
Holland lifted his prosthetic foot: "Infantry, Afghanistan. I've seen wounds like it."
"Why do you think it was from the second story?" Virgil asked.
"Clear sightline. Had to be on the east side, because on the west side, the guy would have to lean way out the window to get the shot off. At that time of day, there are people on the sidewalks and on the street, crossing the street... lots of movement. I think the guy's picking out people who are headed for the church, but are standing still, waiting for traffic, when he pulls the trigger. And it occurred to me last night, maybe he isn't trying to kill them."
"Or, maybe he's so far out there that he's shooting center-of-mass and hitting low," Zimmer suggested. "Maybe he's five hundred yards out, doesn't have the elevation on his scope quite right. Maybe on that first shot he was holding on Coates' chest and hit his leg instead. Adjusted the scope to hit higher, but didn't know what he was doing, gave it two or three clicks instead of five or six, was holding on Rice's chest but still hit her in the hip. With a woman like Miz Rice, there aren't more than about eight to ten inches between a ball-joint shot and heart shot."
"Lot of maybe's in there," Holland said. "I keep thinking psycho in a sniper's nest."
"'Cause you were in the Army," Zimmer said. "Say he's on the second floor you're saying that he climbs down from that, after a shot, and carries his rifle to his car and drives away and nobody see him?"
Holland scratched his chin: "I can tell you he didn't leave the gun behind or any brass. Me and Don..." He turned to Virgil and said, "Don's the deputy I was working with... Anyway, me and Don went over those open places inch-by-inch and there aren't any guns hidden up there. Then we got all the store owners to open up the closed places and there wasn't anything there, either. We even stomped around looking for loose floorboards and so on, where something might have been hidden. The only hidden thing we found was a porno magazine from 1952. The kind where the guy wears black socks."
"Are there any witnesses still around?" Virgil asked.
Holland nodded toward the curtain. "Skinner was coming across the street to work when Rice got hit. He was one of the first ones to get to her. When Coates got hit, Father Brice was standing on the church steps, looking right at him. Father Brice's been coming down once or twice a week, from St. Paul, he'll be here tomorrow."
"I'll want to talk to them," Virgil said. To Zimmer: "Suppose Wardell's right a .223, a long way out. But when he looked, he didn't find any brass. If the guy was in a hurry to leave his spot, he wouldn't want to be fumbling around looking for the shells. I'm thinking it might not be a semi-auto. He could be shooting a bolt action, which would be more accurate than most semi-autos and would be quite a bit more rare. Maybe you could check gun stores for bolt-action .223s? And maybe for suppressors?"
Zimmer nodded. "We'll start right now. Probably not more than a dozen places between the Cities and here, not more than another dozen between here and Des Moines."
"If he's shooting from a car, he wouldn't have to worry about any of that," Holland said. "He could be shooting anything from anywhere, and shooting from inside a car would muffle the shot."
"Like those Washington, DC, snipers," Virgil said.
"I was thinking about those guys, but they were travelers... I believe this is gonna be a local guy," Holland said. "Somebody who knows his way around downtown, somebody people know, somebody who wouldn't be out of place if he was seen."
"If we get him, it's because we'll have figured out one thing," Virgil said. "That's, 'Why?' Why is he doing it?"
"Unless he's nuts," Zimmer said. "Then there's no 'why' that you can figure out."
"We don't want to go there yet," Virgil said. "That's the nightmare."
Virgil, Holland and Zimmer talked a while longer Virgil asked whether there were any known anti-Catholic bigots around town, but neither one of them knew of any. Zimmer mentioned that a couple of Nazis lived out in the countryside and were known to have .223 black rifles, but Zimmer said, "They're basically play-Nazis. I've known both of them since they were born and they're a couple of dumbasses."
"Doesn't take a real smart guy to pull a trigger," Virgil said.
"No, but they have to get away after they pull it," Zimmer said. "Neither one of those guys could elude his way out of a cocktail lounge."
"If nothing else comes up, I'll take a look at them," Virgil said.
"Call before you do that and I'll have a deputy go along. They do have those guns," Zimmer said.
As they were leaving the back room, Holland said, "I'll introduce you to Skinner before you leave. He saw Miz Rice get shot."
"This was the kid who was driving around town with his girlfriends and an open beer when he was twelve?"
"You gotta make some allowances for Skinner," Holland said. "He's sort of... a genius."
"A genius who runs a cash register?"
"He's a high school senior, part owner of the store and he's pulling down eighteen hundred dollars a week, working weekends only. He generally goes to school during the week," Holland said. "How much were you making when you were seventeen and going to school?"
"Shoot, I'm not making that much now," Virgil said.
Holland said that Skinner was the only child of the town hippie. The identity of Skinner's father was not precisely known; his mother, Caroline, admitted that there were several possible candidates.
"Tough for the kid," Virgil said.
"Yeah, but growing up here, in Tarweveld, who you are is more important than who your old man was. Everybody knows Skinner and that he's a good guy."
"Except your former cop," Virgil said.
"Yeah, well, I believe he was excessively focused on..." He glanced at Virgil and trailed off.
"The law?" Virgil suggested.
"Don't get all stuffy about it," Holland said.
Holland took over the cash register and Skinner trailed Virgil outside.
The kid pointed up the street. "She was standing at the corner, waiting to cross to the church. Wearing a green jacket and black pants. I was walking up to the store when I saw her get hit. I don't know, maybe because that Coates guy was shot and I had it in my mind, but as soon as I saw it, I knew she was shot. She jerked sideways and then she made this call noise, not a scream, more like she called out to somebody and then she fell over and tried to crawl..."
"You didn't hear a shot?"
"Nope, not a thing. Anyway, I ran up to her and she was bleeding bad and she said, 'Somebody shot me, somebody shot me.' I had a newspaper under my arm and me and another guy pressed some folded newspaper over the holes in her hips and I saw this guy I knew and told him to call the hospital at Fairmont and get an ambulance down here. They took her to Fairmont and then Fairmont called the Mayo at Rochester and they flew her there on the Mayo chopper."
A good-looking forty-something woman walked by and winked at Skinner who said, "Hey, Madison."
She said, "Skinner: Don't be a stranger."
Virgil looked after her for a second, checked out Skinner's face, which was a picture of innocence, and wrenched himself back to the original topic. "Do you remember which way Rice was facing when she got hit?"
"Yeah, I talked about that with Wardell. She was looking across the street at the church, but I couldn't tell you if her hips were square to the street, or she was square to the church that's a big difference, in terms of where the bullet would've wound up, and where it came from."
"Then me and Wardell were talking about whether the shooter was up high or level with her," Skinner continued. "The thing is, if she had a little more weight on one leg or the other, it would have cocked her hip one way or the other so you can't tell where the shooter was. I can tell you that the bullet hit the ball of her joint on the entry side, but not on the exit side. On the exit side, it was lower."
"You seem to have thought about it quite a bit," Virgil said.
Skinner nodded. "You don't see people get shot. I'll remember it for the rest of my life. It's got me worried, Virgil. The town's got a good thing going and I'd hate to see some nutball mess us up. One or two more shootings and we're toast."
"Why'd you stick a newspaper in the wounds?"
"Untouched by human hands, or any other hands, or even germs," Skinner said. "That newsprint pulp comes out of a big vat and gets ironed out flat and rolled up on a reel, and then printed on, and the inside of a newspaper is about as sterile as a bandage."
"How do you know that?'
"Went on a tour of a paper plant, when I was at Scout camp. The guide told us that."
"So: Tell me about the Nazis."
"Aw, don't waste your time with them. It's two guys and their girlfriends and they don't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of," Skinner said. "They decided they wanted to be somebody, get somebody to pay attention to them, so they signed up to be Nazis and got themselves a couple of pit bulls. They're not exactly harmless, but bar fights are really their style. The Nazis, not the pit bulls."
"Then they're seriously stupid."
"Yeah, they are that. They used to work over at the elevator, but after they signed up to be Nazis, they got fired. Now they all live on welfare. They didn't shoot anyone, though. The shooter is somebody smarter."
"Got any ideas?"
Skinner scraped his lower lip with his upper teeth, then said, "No. It could be somebody who doesn't like what's happened to the town since the apparitions, but I can't think who that would be. If maybe there are a couple of people like that, none of them would be crazy enough to go around shooting people. You have to understand I know every single person who lives here. Not counting the visitors."
"You think it's a visitor?"
"Could be. When I lie in bed and try to think of a person I know, who could be doing this, I come up with a total blank. We got our assholes, we've got a couple of goofs, some angry people from watching Fox News... but it seems to me that it has to be something more than a goof."
"Like what?" Virgil asked.
"Don't know. It's like an oxymoron, random shootings for a reason," Skinner said. "Gonna have to think more about it. The two people who got shot, Rice and Coates, don't have any connections. Nothing at all. Didn't know each other, didn't come from the same place, Coates isn't even a Catholic. The only thing they have in common is where they were shot and the fact that they were shot. That could mean that the shooter has a particular spot he likes to go to and is maybe sighted in at a certain range..."
"I told Wardell and the sheriff that we need to figure out why people were shot..."
"That's exactly right, Virgil," Skinner said. "If you can figure that out, we'll know who's doing it. Unless he's some outsider religious nut and he really is crazy. But how would he know the town well enough to find a sniper spot and not get caught or even seen? People here notice if you drop your Snoball wrapper on the ground. That he can get away with shooting people..."
Skinner shook his head.
"I'll tell you something, Skinner. Anybody who snipes innocent people is seriously unbalanced, even if he believes he has a reason," Virgil said. "Most people won't even shoplift for fear of getting caught. Shooting people? You're dealing with a nut, even if there's a payoff somewhere."
Skinner nodded. "I'll think about that, too."
Virgil walked Skinner up to the corner where Rice was shot and then down the street where Coates was hit. They talked about possible angles, but if you made the simplest assumption, that both were square to the street, then the shots would have come from the general area of the business district. If their hips were turned, one way or the other, the shots could have come from a miscellany of businesses behind either side of Main Street, or from a residential area further back.
"I need to look at a satellite photo," Virgil said. "Try to narrow things down. Will you be around?"
"Until five, at the store. We got a girl that comes in and takes it to eight o'clock, when we close. I'll give you my cell phone: if you need anything, call me."
They exchanged cell phone numbers Virgil gave Skinner his direct number, on the chance that Skinner actually might think of something and then Virgil went out to his truck and got his iPad. A Google Earth satellite photo gave him a solid overhead shot of the town. The picture had been taken in the winter, with no leaves on the trees, so he had an unobstructed view of the street layout.
Assuming that both victims had either been standing more or less square to the street, or turned slightly one way or another, Virgil figured out a pie slice extending from the point where each victim was standing, down toward the business district.
Only a half dozen residential houses fell within the pie slice, as well as a number of auto- or farm-related shops and services. One piece of the slice that included Rice didn't include Coates. Virgil thought that probably eliminated that area if the sniper successfully got away from one spot, why wouldn't he use it again?
Time for a walk-about.
Virgil spent two hours working his way up and down the Main Street shopping block. There were twenty storefronts on the two sides of the block-long business district. All of them had apartments or storage areas on the second floor and a half-dozen of them were being rehabbed as short-term housing for visiting pilgrims. The carpenters and other construction workers quit at four o'clock, according to one store owner, which made Virgil think that might have restricted the time that the sniper had to shoot it had to be after four.
Virgil climbed the stairs to two of the units being renovated. The entire length of Main Street stretched out below him, and it was not long: he could see both ends of town, fading into rolling black new-plowed prairie on both sides. The church steeples were the highest points in Tarweveld, and he could clearly see the spots where the two victims had been standing. There were several solid positions window sills, framing for walls where a rifle could have been supported. There hadn't been much wind the day before, at least, not in Mankato, and a quiet day would help on accuracy.
The building owner had climbed the stairs with him to the second apartment, watched him figure the distances and angles. "Even on a quiet day, it'd take some good shooting," Virgil told the store owner, whose name was Curt Lane.
Lane said, "Hang here one second," and he turned and ran down the stairs; he was back a minute later with a golf rangefinder. He handed it to Virgil and said, "Put the crosshairs on the spot they got shot and push the button on top."
Virgil did, and got two hundred and forty yards for Rice and two hundred and seventy for Coates. "Good shooting," he said. "Our guy might not be just a regular nut, he might also be a gun nut. Know anybody like that?"
"There are a lot of gun guys in town, there not being a lot else to do," Lane said. "You go out to the old quarry and shoot you some soda bottles or there's a sportsman club a few miles further out. Most all the guys hunt and quite a few of the gals."
Virgil nodded, then looked up and down the street. Two-thirds of the parking spaces were taken and he could see perhaps twenty people walking along the length of it. "If the shooter was up here, you'd think somebody would have heard the shot."
"I would have," Lane said. "I'm right downstairs. You say the guy was shooting a .223? I hunt up north where rifles are legal and I know what a .223 sounds like. Guys up there deer hunting let go a half-dozen shots, pop-pop-pop-pop, most likely a .223 or an AK. They're loud. Not a big boom like a .30-06, but you'd hear them for a few blocks, anyway."
"As far as I can find out, nobody heard anything," Virgil said.
"Don't know what to tell you, except, maybe he was a lot further out," Lane said.
"I hope so," Virgil said. "If he's local and he's shooting from a thousand yards or something, we'll spot him pretty quick. Not many people are that good, and the ones who are, are known."
When he'd worked his way down one side of Main Street and up the other, Virgil walked around behind Main Street, first on the east side, then on the west. The east side was bricked in with commercial buildings, a Goodwill Store in an unpainted metal hobby barn, a Burden's Tractor & Implement, a car wash, a brick Fraternal Order of the Eagles, which was mostly a bar with a rooftop that might have provided a sniper's nest, and an STM Wine and Spirits. The Eagles Club wasn't open, but Virgil saw somebody walking around inside, and banged on the door until Goran Bilbija pulled it open an inch and said, "We're closed."
Virgil identified himself and Bilbija let him in and pointed to a stairway that led to a second floor office and storage room. Virgil looked in both, but neither had a window that a sniper could have shot out of. A ladder, pinned to the wall, led to the roof, with a hatch held in place by heavy hooks, the kind seen on barn doors.
"I don't know the last time that was opened, but it's been a while. When we retarred the roof, that was, mmm, five years ago? We did it with ladders from the outside," Bilbija said.
Virgil climbed the ladder anyway, got the hooks loose and when he pushed up on the hatch, a double-handful of dust rained down on his hair and shoulders.
He managed to heave the hatch up onto the roof and climbed outside. When he looked at the hatch, he decided Bilbija was right: the thing hadn't been opened in years, and part of the problem with pushing it open was that it has been tarred shut.
On the other hand, the roof had good sightlines to the spots where the shooting victims had been standing. When Virgil walked around the roof, he found the second floor was built over half the structure, with the back half dropping to a single story. If someone had a short ladder not even a step ladder, but one of the three-step stools used to reach high cupboards he could have climbed onto the back roof, then used the stool to climb to the top. Getting down would be even faster, if it had become necessary to flee. He could have hung from the edge of each roof and had no more than a three-foot drop.
If the shooter climbed up and down from the back side of the building, between the building itself and the dumpster by the kitchen door, he might even get up and down unseen.
Virgil put it down as a possibility. The roof didn't show any footprints, discarded DNA-laden cigarette butts, accidentally dropped driver's licenses, book matches from sleazy nightclubs, or any other fictional possibilities, so he went back down the hatch and pulled it shut.
"Find anything?" Bilbija asked.
"A nice view, but... no."
"Didn't think you would," Bilbija said. "Say, you want a beer or a quick shot to keep you going? I got a nice rye."
Virgil declined the offer and worked his way up the back of Main street, on the west side, and found a more complicated situation, a mix of mostly ramshackle pre-war homes and small businesses, some of the businesses in converted houses. A Pro-Nails place had a dusty hand-written "Out of Business" sign in a window, but Auto Heaven, Buster's Better Quality Meats and Trudy's Hi-Life Consignment were still operating; none of the operators had heard a shot.
Because of the way the houses and businesses were mixed, there were multiple spaces and slots between hedges and behind fences where a rifleman could have hidden. Virgil was lining up a theoretical shot down toward the churches when a man's voice called, "Hold it right there! I got a gun on you!"
Virgil raised his hands: "I'm a cop. Don't shoot."
A heavy-set man in a blue t-shirt and a ragged pair of Dickies overalls stepped out from behind a garage, twenty feet away. He was maybe fifty, balding, with a wind-eroded face. He was aiming an ancient twelve-gauge double-barreled shotgun at Virgil's stomach. "Cop my ass."
"Call the sheriff ask him. Call the mayor. My name is Flowers, I'm with the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension," Virgil said. He was talking fast and tried to keep his voice from shaking, not entirely successfully.
The guy looked less certain of himself, but didn't drop the muzzle of the gun; from Virgil's point of view, the twin bores of the shotgun looked about the size of apples. Instead, he half-turned his head and shouted, "Laura. Call down to the store and ask somebody if they know a cop named Flowers." To Virgil, he said, "Keep your hands up."
Virgil kept his hands up and said, "Point the gun somewhere else."
"You pull that trigger and you're gonna spend the rest of your life in Stillwater prison for killing a cop," Virgil said. "I've identified myself and if you don't point the gun somewhere else, I' m gonna bust you for aggravated assault and that's a minimum of five years. Now point the fuckin' gun somewhere else."
The muzzle moved a foot to the left and Virgil took a breath. They stood like that, and a moment later, Laura yelled, "Wardell says he's a state police officer."
The guy considered that, then lifted the muzzle, pointing it at the sky. "I thought you were maybe that sniper guy," he said. "A stranger sneaking around like that."
Virgil walked up to him. The guy was holding the gun in one hand and Virgil snatched it away from him, then turned and kicked the guy in the ass, hard. "You fuckhead, you could have killed me. Jesus Christ, I oughta beat the crap out of you. I mean... Jesus, going around pointing a shotgun."
"I thought..." the guy moaned, squeezing his ass with one hand.
"You think you see the sniper, call the cops," Virgil shouted. He was still scared. He broke open the gun's action and ejected two shells that looked as old as the gun itself.
A woman came out from behind the garage and asked the heavy-set man, "Now what have you done, Bram?"
Virgil was shaking his head, and shouted at him again, "You fuckin' moron..."
Bram said, "There aren't any cops. You know how long it takes a cop to get here? A half hour if you're lucky. If you live in this town, you take care of yourself."
Virgil looked at him for another few seconds, then tossed the gun back to him. He kept the shells. "You point this fuckin' gun at anyone else, I swear to God I'll stick it so far up your ass you'll blow your head off if you sneeze."
"I thought you was the sniper..."
Virgil shook his head: "Man!"
Virgil turned to the woman: "Thank you for helping out. I apologize for the language, but he scared me to death."
"He didn't mean no harm," she said, anxiously twisting her hands together. She was also heavy-set and also wind-burned; they had to be husband and wife, Virgil realized.
"Doesn't make any difference if he meant no harm," Virgil said, his voice softening. "If he'd jiggled that trigger, he'd have cut me in half."
Bram and Laura Smit "Not Smith. Smit, ending with the T" disagreed about the sniper's gunshots. They'd been home when the two shootings took place and Laura Smit hadn't heard anything that might have been a gunshot. Bram thought he might have, but was uncertain.
Laura said, "That was your tinnitus, honey," she said.
Bram shook his head. "I'll tell you why I know I heard it. Because on the second one, I called it before we knew anybody was shot."
"That's true," Laura admitted.
Now Virgil was interested. "What did it sound like, exactly? Was it close by?"
"Couldn't tell where it came from, how close it was, or anything, but it didn't sound like a gun," he said. "It sounded like you were downstairs and somebody upstairs dropped a boot. More like a thump than a bang. Not too loud. On the first one, I went to see if Laura had fallen or something, but she hadn't, so, I almost forgot about it. Then, later that day, we heard about the shooting down by the church and I wondered if I might have heard the shot."
"You tell anyone?"
"Well, no, because I really didn't think I had," Smit said.
"But the second shot..."
"Yesterday afternoon, I had my head in the refrigerator and I heard that sound again. I went and found Laura and said, 'I heard it again,' and she thought I was imagining it. Then, we found out somebody had been shot again."
"Did you tell anyone about that?"
"I talked him out of it," Laura confessed. "I didn't think, you know, it was any of our business... if there's somebody around shooting people. Bram got his gun out... I mean, there aren't any police around here, Virgil. Not since Wally left and that was three years ago. We're on our own and I don't want to go poking a stick in a hornet's nest."
Virgil walked around the garage with them, into their house, which smelled like cookies, because Laura had been baking. Virgil accepted a peanut butter cookie and looked out some of the windows; from nowhere in the house could he see the place where either of the victims had been standing when they were shot.
They went out in the yard and he looked at other houses in the neighborhood. As far as he could see, none of them had clear sightlines to the shooting scenes, but then, the shooter wouldn't need much of an opening. A .223 slug was about the thickness of an ordinary #2 pencil if the shooter could find an opening the size of a soup can, he'd be able to use a scope and have a clear line between the muzzle and the target. In other words, he could shoot right through most solid-looking trees, just as you can see blue skies through most trees, if you look around a little.
He accepted a second cookie and said to Bram, "I'm sorry I kinda lost it there, but I've had too many guns pointed at me lately. I'm going to give you a card and if you think of anything I might need to know, or if you hear the sound again, give me a call."
Smit nodded: "I will. We're not Catholics, but that church saved the town. Everybody knows that. This crazy man could send us back to the poorhouse."
Virgil spent another half hour wandering around the area on the west side of Main Street, but didn't see anything that made him want to look closer.
He went back to Main Street, got an exceptionally bad cheeseburger and even worse fries at Mom's Cafe, the only restaurant he could find, then headed back to Skinner & Holland. Skinner was behind the cash register and Virgil picked up a package of cinnamon gum to get the taste of the cheeseburger out of his mouth, paid most of a dollar for it and dropped the change in a jar that said, "Tips. Help the Deserving."
"You the deserving?" Virgil asked Skinner.
"Maybe," he said.
"How come this place is called Skinner & Holland Eats and Souvenirs and the only eats you've got are Sno Balls and Cheetos and fake-cheese crackers?" Virgil asked.
"There're some frozen entrees in the freezer and you're welcome to use the microwave," Skinner said. "That's what me'n Wardell mostly eat. We're talking about starting a diner, but we haven't found the right venue and Holland's mom would get pissed. She owns Mom's cafe."
"She sure doesn't need the competition," Virgil said. "I ate the worst cheeseburger of my life there, about five minutes ago."
Skinner winced and said, "I wouldn't wander too far from a toilet. They got three cooks there, we call them Hepatitis A, B and C. That burger's gonna hit the bottom of the bucket in one piece, if you know what I mean."
"I do," Virgil said. "Maybe I ought to start a cafe, if you're afraid to piss off Holland's mom."
Holland had come up behind him, and now he said, "Who's gonna piss off mom?"
Skinner said, "Virgil got a cheeseburger down to the cafe."
"That'll teach you. God knows where the meat comes from. Probably from a veterinarian's," Holland said. And, "Figure anything out?"
"Found a guy who thinks he might have heard the shots, I need to check some sightlines." A couple of customers had edged up, to listen in. Virgil said, "We can talk about it later."
"That's more than anybody else has gotten," Holland said.
"If you could prove that it's Holland's mom who did the shooting, it'd benefit everybody," Skinner said.
"Except mom," Holland added. To Virgil: "You had a hepatitis shot?"
"Already heard that joke," Virgil said.
Skinner and Holland looked at each other and then Skinner said, "That wasn't a joke."
"Ah, Jesus," Virgil said.
Virgil left Skinner & Holland, chewing his way through the pack of gum, walked around to his truck, opened his camera case and took out his Nikon and a long lens. He hung the camera on a shoulder and got a pair of image-stabilizing Canon binoculars out of the gear box in the back. After locking the truck, he trudged over to the spots where the shooting victims were hit and glassed the area on the west side of the business district, picking out spots where a shot might have come from.
There were several. He took a series of photos that he could later review on his iPad.
On his way back to the truck, he saw Skinner leaving the store. "Solved the restaurant problem," Skinner said.
"Taco truck," Skinner said. "Who doesn't like tacos? On top of the tourists, we got a whole bunch of Mexicans in town, so that'd add to the market. Bet there's a truck up in the Cities that we could buy I'm gonna look this week. Get it going. Maybe we could find a Mexican lady to run it. I know there are some in town who make damn good tacos, 'cause I've eaten them."
"Why don't you start a corporation?" Virgil said.
"Where would that get us?" Skinner asked.
"I'd give me an opportunity to buy some of your stock."
"Ah," Skinner said. "Hmm. Let me think about that."
24 February 2019
The Prey series, the Virgil Flowers series, the Kidd series, The Singular Menace, The Night Crew, Dead Watch, The Eye and the Heart: The Watercolors of John Stuart Ingle, and Plastic Surgery: The Kindest Cut are copyrighted by John Sandford. All excerpts are used with permission.
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