Accidental Heroes

Sunday, March 2, 1636

 

Boom! Crack! Crack!

Dina Frost froze where she was. It wasn’t the deer hunting season, so nobody should be shooting in this area—that meant the shooters were probably poachers. Maybe that was what the policemen from the cruiser she and her companion had walked past earlier were looking for. She and Bruno didn’t have much to fear from poachers, other than maybe being mistaken for deer. That was one of the reasons both she and Bruno were wearing high-visibility jackets.

“Two guns,” Bruno said.

Bruno’s comment might have surprised a lot of people who thought he was, to put it politely, mentally challenged, but Dina wasn’t one of them. He might have the mental age of an eight-year-old, as the various tests he’d been given indicated, but Dina, as a nine-year-old, felt confident that Bruno was smarter than a lot of kids her age. “Yes, two guns. At least one of them is a modern rifle.”

“Repeater,” Bruno said before mimicking firing a lever-action carbine with full sound effects.

“Yes, a repeater,” Dina agreed. The boom had come from a black powder weapon. The two supersonic cracks had to have come from a modern rifle firing modern ammunition. That meant two, maybe three poachers. Well, she thought, if they’d killed their deer, then they’d be more interested in carrying it out before anybody caught them, meaning they wouldn’t be hunting in the valley she and Bruno were heading for. Sure that they’d be safe from carelessly discharged firearms she waved for Bruno to follow and they continued on their way.

They walked on in silence for a quarter of an hour, until Bruno tapped Dina on the shoulder and pointed towards a tree. “Amerikanischer Rotvogel.”

Dina knew better than to try and distract Bruno when he was birdwatching. Birds fascinated him, and he could watch them for hours. She pulled a book from her rucksack and settled down to wait until he got bored, or more likely, the birds flew off.

****

Marcus Acton rammed the barrel of his rifle into the gut of Ned Harris. “Why the hell did you have to snoop around, kid?” He glared at the body at his feet for a few seconds. He hadn’t enjoyed having to kill the silly fool. Now he had to find out how much the snoopers knew about his operation. He dug out Ned’s notebook, but there was nothing in there to suggest why he was in Marcus’ valley. He walked over to the next body. It was another uniformed police officer. An examination of his notebook also came up empty. That left the female. She wasn’t in uniform, so she probably wasn’t a cop. Wilhelm, one of his two down-timer partners, passed him an official looking identification folder he’d lifted from her body. Marcus felt a sense of foreboding. Flipping it open the badge confirmed his worst fears. “A fucking Treasury agent.”

Herman and Wilhelm gathered close to read over his shoulder. “They’re onto us,” Herman said.

Marcus almost agreed, but a moment’s thought had him shaking his head. “I don’t think so. If they were, the hills would be alive with Treasury agents.” He took a really good look at the female. She’d been a good looking down-timer, but her hands were soft and ink stained. He felt around for the notebook he was sure she would be carrying. He found it easily, and whereas the notebooks of the two policemen had shed no light on why they were here, hers was full of details.

The details were distressingly accurate, but the side comments threaded through the notebook reassured Marcus. “I think we might be in the clear. The dame’s obviously a frustrated wannabe field agent who was conducting her own investigation with a little help from the boyfriend.”

“But if she was on to us . . .” Herman said.

“Don’t worry, Herman. She’ll have kept everything to herself. I’m sure she would have wanted to present the case against us to her boss all tied up in ribbons.”

“So what do we do now? We can’t leave them here. It’s too close to our camp.”

That was an understatement. The camp was all of a hundred yards from where they were standing. If he bothered to look, Marcus would have easily seen the shed where their still was quietly bubbling away. “First thing, we need to dump the bodies where they are unlikely to be found, and if they are found, they’d better be nigh on impossible to identify. Start stripping them.”

His two companions had no hesitation stripping the dead, but Marcus hesitated over the distasteful task of stripping Ned. It wasn’t that he had any real qualms about what he was doing, but the .308 hunting round that had killed Ned had made a real mess of the young police officer. Eventually the task was done. He bundled up the clothes and slid Ned’s wallet and identification into a pocket before buckling Ned’s issue belt with all its accouterments around his waist. Then he picked the naked body up in a fireman’s lift. “Herman, Wilhelm, you ready?”

“Ja!” Herman said as he struggled to lift his man.

Wilhelm, with the woman, had a much easier time lifting her. “Where to?”

“Over the hill. We want the bodies as far away from our camp as possible,” Marcus said.

Once they were over the hill and into the next valley Marcus started looking for somewhere to hide the bodies. A mine shaft would have been ideal, but they were few and far between in this particular patch of West VirginiaCounty. So what he was looking for was somewhere where they were unlikely to be discovered for a few years, or at least several months.

“This’ll do. Dump them here,” he said as he dropped Ned Harris and started pulling leaves and other ground litter over the body. Wilhelm and Herman followed suit. A few minutes later Marcus stood and examined their handiwork. “Okay, that’s good enough. Let’s go back and see if we can back-track them to where they left their vehicle. That’ll be a signpost pointing right to us if we can’t move it before it’s discovered.”

****

The sound of voices and crashing in the woods interrupted the peace and the cardinals took to the air. Bruno moaned, and Dina had to grab his hand him to stop him running out and confronting the people who’d disturbed his bird watching. Then she distinctly heard someone say “dump them here.” There were the thuds of three objects landing on the ground, followed by a period of rustling in the undergrowth, then the voices went away.

Dina was curious. What were they dumping? “Follow me,” she told Bruno as she set off towards where she’d heard the objects being dumped.

Bruno spotted the disturbed undergrowth first. He prodded it with his hiking stave, and swept aside some of the undergrowth. His muted squeal of horror had Dina running to see what he’d found.

She immediately wished she hadn’t, because Bruno had found a naked body. Dina stared at the body in horror. Those men had dumped a body. Her first instinct was to grab Bruno by the hand and run, but what if the person wasn’t dead? She’d never forgive herself if she’d left a man to die. She fell to her knees and brushed aside the ground litter that covered the man, and quickly realized that there was more than one body. She removed more ground litter to reveal three naked bodies.

She was almost sick at the sight of the two men and a woman. The girl and one of the men had enormous exit wounds in their backs. Dina felt for a pulse, but didn’t feel anything. Because her hands were shaking so much she checked again by putting her ear to their chests. They were both dead.

The other man, a down-timer she was pretty sure she recognized from when her paternal grandmother called the police after her prized fluffy-white Persian cat had been terrorized by someone spreading nitrogen triiodide crystals around her food bowl, had a much smaller and less gory exit wound, and it was still bleeding. She stared at the trickle of blood for a moment. Surely dead people didn’t bleed? She put her ear to his chest, and heard a faint heartbeat. Dina wasn’t sure what to do. She had to get help, or the man would surely die. But she couldn’t leave him here. Her eyes fell upon her companion. Bruno was strong. He might not have the physique of a bodybuilder, but a lifetime of hard physical labor had given him considerable strength and endurance. “Bruno, can you carry this man back to where we found that police car?”

Bruno nodded. While he lifted the man Dina turned back to the other bodies to make one final check that they were both dead. Confident that they were dead, Dina turned her attention back to Bruno. He could be so single minded once he started something that he would continue doing it until he dropped if someone wasn’t there to tell him to stop. She was going to have to keep an eye on him for his own sake.

She’d taken a dozen steps before she realized she’d have to guide the adults back to the other bodies. She broke some twigs and set them in the ground as an arrow pointing to the tree before hurrying to catch up with Bruno.

Bruno started to follow the path along the ridgeline they’d used on the way up, but Dina felt that it was important to get back to the police car they’d passed earlier in the day as quickly as possible. So she led him straight down the steep slope, marking their route as she went.

When they made it back to the police car Dina checked the door. Just as she’d feared, it was locked. She stared through the window at the radio. She needed to get to that to call for help. Bruno could easily to smash a window, but that wouldn’t help, as the radio wouldn’t work without power, and you needed the key to turn on the power. She stared at the radio, so close, but so far away. Then she remembered her uncle producing a spare key that had been wired to the chassis of his police cruiser after the officer with him had managed to lock the car with the keys inside.

It wasn’t the same vehicle, but surely the police wouldn’t hide a spare key on just one of their cars. She dropped to the ground and started searching. She found it the hard way, spiking her hand on the wire. She tried to undo the wire, but it was too strong for her small hands. She slid out from under the cruiser. “Bruno, I need you. Put the man down and come here, please.”

She directed Bruno to the key and he was able to quickly free it. Moments later she had the door open and the ignition on to power the radio. “Mayday! Mayday! Officers down!”

Mimi Rowland, a police dispatcher, responded almost immediately—asking her to identify herself.

“This is Dina Frost. Me and Bruno heard some shots, and then some men hiding some bodies. I think one of them is Officer Heilmann. He’s still alive, but he needs to get to the hospital.”

“Whoa, girl. Slow down. Take a deep breath and say that again, slowly.”

Dina did as she was told. This time making it clear that she thought Officer Heilmann might be the casualty they’d brought back, and not one of the men dumping the bodies.

“Do you have a badge number for the officer?” Mimi asked.

“He’s not wearing a badge, Mrs. Rowland. None of them had any clothes on. They were shot and their bodies hidden.” Dina bit down on her knuckles as she remembered seeing the bodies and the bloody wounds.

“Where are you now, Dina?”

“I’m in cruiser four, just off Salt Lick Run, below the cemetery.”

A new voice came over the radio. “We’re sending a couple of squad cars, Dina. Until they arrive can you get Bruno to carry Officer Heilmann clear of the cruiser, somewhere where you can all hide? Do you understand? I want you to get well clear of the vehicle and hide until we get there.”

Dina easily recognized her uncle’s voice. “Why do you want me to hide, Uncle Estes?”

“Just do as I say, Dina. I want you to get away from the car and hide until we arrive.”

Dina hung up the microphone and stepped out of the car. She saw Officer Heilmann’s body lying on the ground at Bruno’s feet, and suddenly she knew why Uncle Estes wanted her to hide. She picked out a clump of bushes that might be a good hiding place and directed Bruno to pick up the man and follow her. She wanted to run, but she couldn’t, because that would just cause Bruno to panic.

****

Marcus finally stumbled out onto a road, and there, hidden under a tree, was a police cruiser. He and his companions approached it. Wilhelm grabbed the door handle. Marcus was all ready to tell him not to waste his time when the door opened. That was unexpected. Surely the cops wouldn’t have left it unlocked. Then he realized the radio was on, and he heard “Salt Lick Run” being mentioned. He listened a little more in growing horror as he heard various voices announcing they were converging on the place he was standing. “The cops are on to us. Run!”

“How?” Herman asked as he chased after Marcus and Wilhelm.

“I don’t know, but the radio is alive with cops saying they’re heading this way.” Marcus stopped to look around, just in case he could see anyone,. He couldn’t, but in the distance he could hear the sound of sirens. Normally he wouldn’t have worried, as police sirens weren’t unknown even this far out of town, but this time he knew they were probably headed his way. “Back to the boat. It’s our best bet to get away.”

****

Dina was worried. From their hiding place under a bush more than fifty yards from the police cruiser they’d had a good view of the vehicle. She’d been scared enough when the three men appeared, but Bruno’s reaction had terrified her. He’d curled up into a protective ball and was muttering and moaning in fear.

The wail of sirens signaled the approach of two pickups. They skidded to a halt within sight of the cruiser and a dozen armed policemen and a dog emerged. Dina identified her uncle and ran up to him. “Those men scared Bruno, Uncle Estes.”

“What men?” Estes asked.

“Three men came out of the trees and looked around the car. One of them opened the door of the cruiser, and then suddenly the three of them ran off.”

Estes’ fingers dug into Dina’s shoulder until she winced and shook his hand off. “Sorry.” He turned to the gathering officers. “Erika, take half a dozen men and see if Pluto can track them.” He gently pushed Dina to arms length and crouched down to her eye level. “How are you?”

“I’m okay, but I’m really worried about Bruno and the man we found.”

“Show me,” Estes said.

Dina led him to the bush where Bruno was still huddled into a tight ball beside the naked body of Gottlieb Heilmann.

“That’s Gottlieb alright,” Estes announced as he crouched over the body checking for signs of life. Moments later he looked up. “Haggerty, Steinfeldt, get over here.”

While Blake Haggerty and Heinrich Steinfeldt carried Gottlieb to the load bay of one of the pickups, Estes quickly checked over Bruno before resting a hand on Dina’s shoulder. “I need to get back to my men. Will you be all right here with Bruno?”

She nodded numbly and wrapped her arms around the tight ball that was Bruno and bit her lips to keep the tears at bay. She was vaguely aware of her uncle walking off and the sounds of vehicles coming and going. A few minutes later her uncle tapped her gently on the shoulder. She looked up to see an ambulance officer beside her uncle. “Yes?”

“Do you think you can guide us to where the bodies are hidden?” Estes asked.

Dina gently disengaged herself form Bruno and got to her feet. “Bruno needs me, but I left a trail. I can show you where we left the woods.” She led her uncle to the point she and Bruno had left the woods. A few feet into the woods the path they’d taken could be easily seen.

“We should be okay from here,” Estes said. “You go back and look after Bruno.”

She did as she was told, pausing only for a moment to watch the two men from the white van climbing into clean overalls. They were police forensic technicians. “One of them opened the driver’s door, and slammed it shut with his hand against the frame before they ran off,” she called out helpfully.

“Thank you,” the senior forensics technician called before turning his attention to the door in question.

She watched them puffing powder over the door for a few seconds, but Bruno was still a concern. She left them to it and hurried over to where Bruno was hiding.

****

Marcus was breathing heavily when he got back to their camp. “Herman, grab everything of value from your quarters and put it on the boat with the stuff we took from the cops. Wilhelm, you come with me.”

While Herman headed for their living quarters Marcus and Wilhelm headed for the shed where their still was located. Marcus pointed to the full barrels. “Start loading those onto the boat.”

While Wilhelm started rolling away the first of the barrels Marcus went through the shed looking for anything that could connect him with the facility and tossed it into the flames under the boiler. He then rolled the remaining full barrels of alcohol out of the shed before tipping a partly filled barrel over to fill a jug, which he used to splash alcohol around the shed. With a last jug of nearly one hundred and seventy proof spirits in his hand he turned the gas burners right up and lit a candle, which he touched to the alcohol splattered walls. Then he headed for the cabin Wilhelm and Herman been living in. He splashed the contents of the jug around before dropping the candle onto the bedding, where it ignited the alcohol. Sure everything was going to burn, he headed for the boat.

****

In the distance Dina could see a black cloud forming as her uncle and his party returned carrying two body-bags between them. The bags were loaded into an ambulance, and it headed off. Dina started to worry that she and Bruno had been forgotten as first her uncle, and then the other policemen drove off, leaving just the forensics team, who were also preparing to leave. She jumped to her feet and hurried over. “Are you going to take us home?” she asked.

“What the . . .”

From Georg Meisner’s shocked reaction to her appearance Dina concluded everyone had completely forgotten about her and Bruno. “You aren’t going to leave me and Bruno here, are you?”

“The Fräulein is correct, Herr Meisner,” Martin Dörrenfelde said. “We can’t leave them here.”

“I know she’s right, but we are not going back to town.” He sighed heavily. “Get into the van. Herr Chief Richards can decide what to do with you.”

****

The motor started first time, and soon Marcus was steering a course that would take them as far away as possible from the now merrily burning campsite. He was upset at losing such an ideal location, but the precious cargo of alcohol, the weight of which was threatening to sink the boat, mitigated the loss a little. “She was a nice little earner,” he muttered.

“What do we do now?” Herman asked.

“You sell this last load and go to ground. There’s nothing back there to connect any of us to the camp, or the dead cops.”

“It’s a good thing you were there today,” Wilhelm said.

Marcus could only agree with the man. If he hadn’t been around his two colleagues would probably be in police custody right now singing their tiny little heads off.

****

At the top of Salt Lick Run a number of police vehicles were parked on either side of the road and armed police were milling about as Sergeant Estes Frost tried to organize them. He broke away from them and approached as Martin drew the forensics van to a halt. Estes walked around to the passenger side and tapped on the window, which Georg wound down.

“We’ve found a camp, but they torched everything before they left. Do you still want to have a look?

“Yes, thank you.”

Dina poked her head through the gap between the front seats. “Uncle Estes. You forgot all about me and Bruno!”

All color drained from her uncle’s face and he muttered something she was sure was either a curse or a swear word. She consigned the word to memory, so she could look it up later.

“You and Bruno stick with me, but don’t get in the way.”

Dina dragged Bruno out of the truck and together they formed up, not quite at the “heel” position, but very close to it. When Estes moved, they moved. They followed Estes up over the hill and down the other side. They followed him to the water’s edge, where Chief Press Richards was standing.

Press took one look at Dina and Bruno and swore. Dina pretended she hadn’t heard him as she added it to the growing collection of words to be looked up. She waved. “Hi, Mr. Richards.”

“Hi, Dina.” Press pulled Estes Frost to one side to talk. Every so often either he or her uncle turned to look at her. Finally, it seemed as if Press had come to a decision. “Dina, we can’t spare anybody to take you home right now. Can you keep out of trouble until I have someone to spare?”

Mindful that she didn’t really have a lot of choice, Dina nodded. “Will it be all right if I look around for milkweed plants?”

“Sure. Is that what you were out looking for today?” Press asked.

“Yes.” She looked around the campsite, paying special attention to the still burning shed that someone had built in the middle of a patch of milkweed that would have been worth over a hundred dollars.

****

The house on Gray’s Run looked quiet and peaceful as her Uncle Estes drove the police car up the drive a couple of hours later. As the vehicle rounded the final corner she could see the reception committee that had assembled. There had been little chance that the story wouldn’t have broken before she could get home, so Chief Richards had arranged for the office to call home for her, to pass on that she and Bruno were unharmed. Dina touched her uncle on the shoulder. “There’s no need to tell mom and dad that me and Bruno saw the men, is there?”

“Well . . .”

Dina could see her uncle was about to launch into a speech about how her parents had a right to know, so she preempted him. “And there’s no need for me to tell Mom that me and Bruno almost got left behind.”

Estes stared hard at Dina for a few seconds before a smile flashed across his face and he held out his hand. “It’s a deal. So what do we tell your mom and dad?”

Dina put her small hand into his and shook it. “We don’t lie, because lies are always found out.”

Estes nodded. “So we tell them the truth?”

She nodded. “Just not all the truth.”

“You’re associating with the wrong people, Dina.”

Dina switched her gaze between Estes’ eyes and the hand holding hers and raised her brows.

He saw it and grinned. “Enough of that, let’s get this over and done with.”

****

Dina had been sent off so her mother could get the real story from Uncle Estes. She knew that because she’d hung around long enough to hear her mom ask exactly that question. She left them to it. Mom was going to freak out when she heard that Dina had discovered three dead bodies, but it wasn’t as if Dina hadn’t seen dead bodies before—the Croat raid of ’32 had taken care of that. She just had to hope that her uncle didn’t let slip that she and Bruno had actually seen the murderers when they discovered the police car. That would really freak her mom out. And probably result in all sorts of restrictions being placed on her wanderings.

That reminded her. Bruno had freaked out pretty badly himself when he’d caught sight of the murderers. Why? She wondered. She’d seen Bruno scared before, but never that scared. She probably couldn’t just ask him. She’d have to work it into a conversation sometime, but not right now. Not while the memories were too fresh. She needed Bruno to calm down before she asked, because she couldn’t risk him freaking out like that again. Mom would be sure to ask uncomfortable questions.

****

Marcus Acton walked up the drive to his home, his rifle, in a rifle scabbard, slung over his shoulder, a fishing rod in his left hand, and a string of fish he’d caught hanging from his right. His wife was waiting for him at the door. He held up the string of fish. “This evening we eat,” he joked.

“That’s better than last week.” Jocelyn kissed him, carefully avoided the string of fish. “There’s been a shooting out on Salt Lick Run. The radio’s been full of it.”

Marcus glanced vaguely in the direction of Salt Lick Run. “I didn’t hear anything. What happened?”

Jocelyn shrugged. “Other than that there was a shooting, and that three people have been taken to hospital, the police haven’t said much.” She edged the fish away and hugged Marcus. “I’m glad you’re safe.”

“Me too,” Marcus said as he dropped a kiss behind her ear. “I guess we’ll get the full story on the evening news.”

****

Later that evening Marcus sat down with his family to watch the news. He wasn’t disappointed. The fires he’d lit had totally destroyed the cabin and the distilling shed. It’d also burned a few of the barrels stacked around the back of the shed. It was all good stuff. With that much damage the chances of the police finding anything to connect him to the camp were negligible. He was sorry to lose the site, but with the girl from Treasury learning enough to sniff around they would have had to shut down the operation sooner or later anyway.

It came as a shock that one of the cops had survived, and the news that the bodies had been found by some snoopy kid didn’t go down well.

“Dina Frost deserves a medal,” Jocelyn said.

“But it was Bruno who carried the policeman out,” ten-year-old Bailey Acton said.

“Who’s Bruno?” Marcus asked.

“He’s a guy that works for Dina’s mother’s aerial photography business. He goes around with Dina a lot.”

“How old is this young man?” Jocelyn asked.

Bailey shrugged. “I dunno. Maybe mid-twenties.”

“Celeste Frost lets her daughter hang around with a man in his mid-twenties? I don’t believe it.”

“The retard’s no risk, mom. He’d never hurt his precious Dina. The guy practically worships her.”

“We do not call people ‘retards’ in this household, young man.”

“But he’s real stupid, Mom. I heard that he’d been left to chop up some firewood, and when he didn’t turn up for dinner they found him still chopping wood, even as it grew dark.”

“We don’t go around calling people stupid either, Bailey.”

“No, Mom.”

Marcus let the family squabble pass over his head as he stared at the television screen. Two people had found those bodies even though he’d been sure nobody would discover them for months, if not years. How did they find them? And so quickly? Dina and her friend would have had to be close by when they dumped the bodies. That thought raised the possibility that they’d been seen. He worried about that for a while. Officer Heilmann had seen them before he was shot, but that had been from over a hundred yards away. The girl had had an inexpensive down-time telescope, but Marcus didn’t think they’d seen them before he and Wilhelm shot them. It was just such a damned shame Wilhelm’s shot hadn’t killed the guy, then he wouldn’t have any worries.

He tuned back to the TV when the Grantville police chief appeared. He snorted in disbelief when Press Richards claimed that they were pursuing several lines of inquiry and that arrests, although not imminent, were expected soon. That was all so unlikely.

“What’s so funny?” Jocelyn asked.

Marcus gestured at the TV screen. “Press Richards. How often have you heard the police claiming they expected to make arrests soon?”

“Too often.” Jocelyn turned his head. “Promise me you won’t go out that way until they catch whoever it was.”

He leaned closer and kissed her. “I promise.” It would be an easy promise to keep. With the site compromised there was no reason for him to go out that way. Besides, he’d be spending his spare time looking for somewhere new to set up.

 

Wednesday, March 5

 

Marcus was threading a pipe when his boss tapped him on the shoulder. Linda Jane pointed to two policemen at the door of the workshop. “The police would like a word with you.”

He blanked out for a moment. Could they have found something that connected him to the deaths on Salt Lick Run? But it was only for a moment. He glanced down at the half-complete job he’d been working on. “I hope this won’t take long,” he called out to the policemen.

“Just a few minutes of your time, Herr Acton,” Heinrich Steinfeldt said.

That didn’t sound like they had anything. He grabbed a rag and wiped his hands on it. “You want to talk out in the sun?”

“Sure,” Blake Haggerty said.

Once outside Marcus led them to a sheltered spot in the sun. “So, how can I help you?”

Blake flipped open his notebook. “We understand you were out on the RingLakes yesterday?”

“That’s right. I usually go out fishing on Sunday if I can get away. Caught half a dozen fish yesterday.”

“How far did you go?” Heinrich asked.

“Go? On the water?” Heinrich nodded. “There’s this nice little nook on the south side of the Gray’s Run peninsula—the fish seem to love it there.” It was also a long way away from the campsite. He mentally complimented himself for his superior thinking and planning. By having a stash of gas there the boat rental’s records would show he hadn’t consumed enough to even put him close to where the still had been.

“Did you see anything suspicious?” Blake asked.

“I was fishing,” he said. “When a guy’s fishing the only thing he worries about is what might be happening on the end of his hook.”

“True!” Blake muttered sheepishly. “So you didn’t see anything?”

“I saw a cloud of smoke a bit after midday. I think it might have been the fire they showed on TV last night.”

“Maybe,” Heinrich said. “Just a couple more questions. Our information is that even though you were fishing, you had a large caliber hunting rifle with you yesterday?”

“You bet I had a rifle with me yesterday. I had a bad experience a few years ago when I got treed by a wild hog.” Marcus shuddered dramatically. “There ain’t no way I’m going out without something that can deal with a pig. That bastard hung around all day and most of the night. Never again.” The story was even the truth, as too many people would be happy to tell them. It’d taken a while to live down that little experience.

“Didn’t you have a handgun?” Blake asked.

“Sure, but a little .380 ain’t much good against a three hundred pound boar. It just pissed him off.”

“What kind of rifle do you own?” Heinrich asked.

“You name it, I’ve got it,” Marcus joked. “But if you mean what did I take out with me yesterday, that was a civilian version of the M-14.” He shrugged. “It’s a bit too much gun, but I’m a lefty, and bolt-actions and levers can be a real pain.”

“A couple of years ago you installed a valve on a wellhead out on Salt Lick Run?” Heinrich asked.

Marcus nodded. “Sure. The Hart brothers wanted to tap a local wellhead rather than haul gas in for the still they had at their little primer manufactory. They had all the proper permits for it, so I installed a tap.”

“This was a pipeline?” Heinrich asked.

“Nope, just a tap so they could fill their own bottles. They weren’t using enough gas to justify the cost of a pipeline.”

Heinrich flipped his notebook closed. “Thank you for your time, Herr Acton. If you think of anything . . .”

“Call the police. Sure.” Marcus shook hands with both officers and watched them walk off. That hadn’t been so bad, and it seemed he’d covered his tracks well. A glance at his watch had him hurrying back to work. The client expected his bio-gas reticulation system to be ready for him by tomorrow, and there was still a lot of work to be done.

****

Dina walked into the police department and straight up to the reception desk and asked if she could see her uncle.

“Sergeant Frost is very busy,” Eva Bernhardt said. “And shouldn’t you be in school?”

Dina sighed. Adults had one track minds. “It’s lunch break.Can you tell Uncle Estes that I need to speak to him, please? It’s important.”

Eva looked askance at Dina, but she did pick up the internal phone and called her uncle. “Sergeant Frost, your niece is at the desk and would like to talk to you. She says it’s important.” She nodded absently as she listened. “Yes, of course.” She put down the phone. “Do you know where Sergeant Frost’s desk is?” Dina nodded. “Very well, he’s expecting you.”

“Thank you,” Dina said before hurrying off. She made her way to the office her Uncle Estes shared with several other officers. He was sitting down, papers spread all over his desk.

“I know you well enough to know you’d only ask to see me about something important, so take a seat and tell me.”

Dina climbed onto the hard wooden chair and sat looking at her uncle. “Bruno recognized two of the men.”

“Dina, I know you think a lot of Bruno, but you were both too far away from the car to see their faces.”

“Bruno didn’t have to see their faces close up to recognize them, Uncle Estes. He says they are his brothers,” she said as if that explained everything.

Her uncle’s eyes widened, and he reached for a clean sheet of paper and a pen. Do you have their names?”

“Wilhelm and Hermann.” She shrugged. She knew that wasn’t what her uncle really wanted, but it had been difficult enough getting that much out of Bruno.

“And their surname? Come on, surely if they are brothers, they should have the same name as Bruno.”

“Bruno doesn’t have a surname, Uncle Estes. At least not one he knows. He’s only ever answered to Bruno.”

Estes sighed. “What does he know about them? Are they older or younger than him?”

“They’re older. They were really horrible to him when he was growing up. That’s why seeing them scared him so much.”

“How much older?”

“Bruno thinks they were about ten years older. They were always bigger than him when he was growing up.” Dina really hadn’t liked what she’d heard about Bruno’s brothers. They sounded like a pair of real bullies. She’d never be that mean to her little brother.

“And how old is Bruno?”

Dina had to shrug again. “We don’t know. Mom’s best guess, based on the work history she’s been able to back-track, is that he’s about twenty-five.”

“So we’re looking for two men in their early- to mid-thirties.”

“And fairly new to Grantville, because me and Bruno were out that way last year, and there was no shed in that spot.”

“You were heading for that site?”

“They built their shed right on top of a really good patch of milkweed me and Bruno were going to harvest.”

Suddenly the office went quiet. Dina looked around at the blank faces staring at her. “The latex you get from the milkweed is worth over a hundred dollars a gallon,” she explained. “Of course you have to collect a lot of milkweed to get that much latex.”

“Of course you do,” Estes muttered as he got to his feet. “Well, there’s not a lot we can do about your information unless you can give us a name. So for now, we’d better see about getting you back to school before you’re missed. Come on, I’ll give you a lift.”

Dina followed her uncle, who was joined by Sergeant Fleischer. She was doing up her seatbelt when Erika Fleisher looked over her seat. “Dina, we appreciate your coming in to tell us what you’ve learned.”

“But it’s not much good because Bruno doesn’t remember his family’s name,” Dina muttered.

“I’m afraid not,” Erika agreed.

Dina stared blankly at the road ahead. There was one way to identify Bruno’s brothers, and that was having him see them again. She started plotting how she could arrange that.

 

April 1636

 

Marcus cut the engine just as the boat started to ground. He hurried forward, grabbed the anchor, and jumped for shore. He grounded the anchor and then pulled the boat up onto the shore until it was firmly beached. It was the first time he’d returned to his old moonshine camp since the beginning of March when he’d killed two people. He removed his rifle from its scabbard, loaded five rounds into a magazine and clicked it into place before slinging it over his shoulder. It was time to explore.

The old cabin where Herman and Wilhelm had lived was a burned-out ruin. He nodded in satisfaction at the sight before moving on to the shed where they’d had their still. The fire he’d set there had left even less behind than the cabin fire. No doubt the gas had had something to do with that.

The still and all the gear they’d been forced to leave behind in the mad dash to evacuate the site were all gone, but he’d expected that. If nothing else, the police would have removed the still just to stop other people getting it.

He gave the site one final walk-around before returning to the shore. He traded his rifle for his fishing rod and found a spot on the shore where he could cast without catching his line in the trees. The wounded cop was improving, but from what he’d heard on the grapevine, was unable to give a description of Marcus or the Kindorf brothers. The most the cops had learned from Officer Heilmann was that they were looking for three people. Good luck to them with that bit of information. The cops seemed to have hit a dead end, meaning he was home free, so he might as well see if he could catch lunch.

****

The events of the previous month had resulted in Dina’s activities being severely curtailed. She was behind in her latex collection, so today she and Bruno were carrying over fifty pounds of plant matter between them as they emerged from the woods around Deborah. She was hungry, and no doubt so was Bruno. Dina checked her purse, and taking full account of the money she should earn from the milkweed they carried, decided to divert past the bakery. They emerged with a sticky bun each.

They found somewhere to sit. Dina dug a couple of bottles of water out of her rucksack and passed Bruno one before drinking from hers. It was a warm April afternoon, so she leaned back on a tree trunk and watched the world go by while she ate her bun.

“Wilhelm!”

Bruno’s horrified whimper jerked Dina back to the present. She checked Bruno. He was pale, almost white, and he was staring at a man sitting at an outdoor table.

Dina studied the man. He looked vaguely similar to one of the men she’d seen looking at the police cruiser, but then, so had a lot of men she’d seen since then. However, this was the first one Bruno had reacted to. She pulled out the camera her Aunt Lettie had lent her. She was looking at him through the viewfinder when he looked up and stared straight at her.

Click.

The man looked from her to Bruno. Suddenly he got to his feet, dropped some money on the table and hurried off.

Dina wanted to follow him, but a glance over her shoulder told her Bruno was in no state to be left alone. Movement out of the corner of her eye turned into a waitress heading for the vacated table, no doubt to recover the money Wilhelm had left under his glass. The glass! She ran, getting to the glass just before the waitress.

“What are you planning on doing with that glass, young lady?” Dee Fisher, the co-owner of Tip’s demanded.

Dina edged closer and whispered. “I need to call the police. That man might be one of the men responsible for murdering Officer Harris.” She could have mentioned the dead girl and the other officer, but they were both down-timers, and even after all this time a lot of up-timers, especially those around Mrs. Fisher’s age, didn’t seem to see them as being equal to up-timers.

“What makes you think he might be one of the people responsible?”

“Me and Bruno saw them.” Dina immediately realized what she’d said and hastily looked around to see who might have heard. No one seemed to have heard, so she edged closer. “But you mustn’t tell Mom that.”

That drew a grin from Dee before she glanced at the glass. “You’re thinking of fingerprints?”

Dina nodded.

“Okay then, you look after the glass while I call the cops.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Fisher.”

****

Dina had a box seat to watch Georg Meisner, the senior forensics technician, first lift the fingerprints from the glass and then compare them with the prints he’d taken from Car Four.

“Well,” he said to the eager ears surrounding him some time later, “it looks like we have a match.”

“You’re sure?” Press Richards asked.

“Pretty sure, Herr Chief Richards, I’ve got nine points of similarity.” Georg pointed to a spot on one of the prints with a pencil. “That loop there matches the loop here. And . . .”

“Okay, so you’re pretty sure of a match. That means we have a suspect at last.” Press smiled at Dina. “Good work.” Press turned his attention to the six by three inch photograph of a man looking straight at the camera. “Is that as big as you can make it?”

“Yes,” Georg said. “The man’s face is actually a very small part of the negative. I believe Fraulein Frost was over fifty feet from the subject when she took the photograph.”

Dina nodded that this was correct.

“Right, run off a couple of dozen copies and we’ll start circulating them.” Press turned to Dina. “We owe you a heap of thanks. I don’t know how we can ever repay you.”

“Cash, gold, negotiable bonds.” Dina smiled at the shocked look on Chief Richards’ face. She’d been dying for a chance to use that phrase ever since she heard her Aunt Lettie use it. It’d sounded so cool.

****

Marcus was standing on the sideline cheering Bailey’s Little League Soccer team on with the rest of the parents. Right then Bailey emerged from the melee of nearly twenty nine-year-olds with the ball at his feet, jinked past the goalie, and dribbled the ball into the goal. He turned, proud as could be, to search for his family. The moment he located them he ran straight for them.

“I scored! I scored!” Bailey said as he launched himself at Marcus.

Marcus caught him, and hugged his son. “You were brilliant. The way you ran round that goalie, he didn’t stand a chance.”

“Daddy!”

Okay, so maybe he was spreading it on a bit thick, but he was proud of his son. He ruffled Bailey’s hair and sent him off to rejoin his team.

“It was a good thing you were here to see his first goal,” Jocelyn said.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, but doesn’t Britney have a pony club gymkhana next week?” he asked, looking down at his daughter.

“You remembered!” Britney squealed.

“Of course I remembered.” He crouched down to her eye level. “Would I forget my favorite girl’s big competition?”

Britney threw her arms around his neck. “You’re the best daddy in the world.”

Marcus hugged his little girl tightly, then swung her over his head so she could sit on his shoulders.

He was still carrying her on his shoulders when the final whistle was blown and everyone started to move towards the bus stop.

“Have either of you seen this man?”

Marcus glanced over to see a police auxiliary handing Jocelyn a photograph. He looked over her shoulder. It wasn’t a great photograph, but anybody who knew Wilhelm Kindorf would easily recognize him. “Sorry, he doesn’t look familiar. What’s he wanted for?”

The auxiliary shrugged. “I don’t know. We were just issued the photographs and sent out to see if anybody knew who he was and where he might be found.”

Jocelyn handed the photograph back. “Sorry, I don’t recognize him either. Is he dangerous?”

The auxiliary nodded. “That much we have been told. If you see him, don’t approach him. Don’t even try to follow him. Just call the police.”

“We will,” Marcus said.

They boarded the bus. Marcus found a seat for Jocelyn and the kids, but he had to stand. On the trip home he constantly looked down on his family. Every now and again Jocelyn would look up and smile at him. He thought about that photograph of Wilhelm and what it could mean. If the police caught Wilhelm, then he stood to lose everything he held dear. He had to do something about the Kindorfs before the police found them. The trouble was, he didn’t know where they were staying.

“A penny for them!”

The inquiry jerked him back the present. He tried to smile at her, but his problemsseemed to be growing. “They aren’t worth that much.”

“Then you won’t mind telling me for free.”

“I’ve forgotten,” he said, hoping to put her off. But for some reason Jocelyn was like a dog with a bone. She kept trying to get him to tell her what he’d been thinking. How could he tell her he was worried about being arrested for murder? He could feel his temper rising.

“Come on, tell me.”

He snapped. He didn’t quite hit her, but Jocelyn saw the intent in his eyes and drew back in horror, and Marcus bolted. The driver must have seen him in the mirror, because he was braking and had the door open before Marcus got to it. He ran from the bus as if his life depended on it.

Ten minutes later Marcus came out of his blind panic and started to worry about where he was. Back up-time he’d known Grantville like the back of his hand, but there had been a lot of new buildings go up since then. One thing was clear. He was not in one of the more salubrious areas of Greater Grantville. He looked around for landmarks. Locating a hill he thought he recognized, he worked out the direction he needed to take to get back to the main road and started walking. He wasn’t lonely. He had the memory of the white, terrified faces of his family in that moment of anger to keep him company.

The sun was starting to set behind the hills and the street was starting to get dark as he turned yet another corner in his search for the main road. He heard a voice, and located a uniform. Never had he been so glad to see a policeman. He hurried towards the man.

He was close to the policeman when suddenly two men appeared at a door. The policeman ordered them to halt, and they responded by opening fire with hand guns. Marcus dived for cover just as the policeman was hit and fell, spilling his revolver as he hit the ground. Marcus thought about the two armed men heading his way and dived for the revolver.

He thumbed the hammer back even before he had a proper grip of the weapon and brought it up. The lead gunmen were less than a dozen yards away when Marcus started shooting.

Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Click! Click! Click! Click!

Marcus was still trying to shoot when a hand grabbed the revolver and pulled it from his hands. That panicked him, and he fought for the gun. There was a short struggle before it dawned on Marcus that the person he was fighting was in uniform. Suddenly reaction set in and he lost the ability to stand. He would have fallen but for the policeman catching him and lowering him gently to the ground. Shaking violently he wrapped his arms around himself and tried to shut out the rest of the world.

He was vaguely aware of activity around him. Someone wrapped a quilt around him, and he muttered his thanks. He couldn’t take his eyes off the two men lying on the ground a few yards from him. They were dead, and he was alive. Suddenly his stomach heaved, and he barely managed to get his head out of his lap before he threw up. A moment later he heaved again.

“Rinse your mouth out with this,” a kind voice said.

Marcus looked up to see a female police officer holding out a mug of something. “Thanks.” He sipped the warm brew. It tasted like the light soup that the canteen at work usually had simmering. Feeling brave he had another sip. Slowly he became aware of the world again, and discovered he was sitting in a puddle. He started to move to get out of it when the smell hit him. He felt the heat rising in his face as he realized he’d soiled himself.

“Don’t be embarrassed. It’s a natural reaction,” Sergeant Erika Fleischer said.

“That’s easy for you to say. I’ve still got to get home . . . ah, shit!” Marcus suddenly remembered why he was out here and not safely at home with his wife and kids.He dropped his head in shame.

“Are you all right?”

“Depends on what you mean by all right.” Marcus tilted up his head to look the policewoman in the eyes. “You’re probably wondering what I’m doing out here.”

“We were sort of wondering that,” Estes Frost said.

Marcus looked for the new arrival. “Hi, Estes. I had an argument with Jocelyn. On the bus of all places. I lost my temper and nearly hit her. Bailey and Britney were there.” He shuddered. “The look on their faces . . .” He tried to shake away the memory. “Anyway, I panicked and ran.” Marcus looked around and snorted. “And I got lost. That’s a joke, isn’t it? I got lost in Grantville, a place I’ve lived nearly all my life. Then I saw a cop.” He looked around and noticed the policeman whose gun he’d used was gone. “Is he okay?”

“Thanks to you, he’s got a good chance,” Estes said.

“What about them?” Marcus gestured to where ambulance staff were loading the bodies onto gurneys.

“They’re both dead,” Estes said.

“I killed them?”

“You had help. Sergeant Tipton also fired at them.”

“What happens now?”

“We take you back to the station to take a statement and get you all cleaned up,” Estes said.

****

A hot shower and a change of clothes, even if they were just a pair of police issue coveralls, made a lot of difference to how a man felt, but nowhere near as much as hearing that the two dead men had been Herman and Wilhelm Kindorf. The relief that they were no longer a threat hanging over his head had brought back his appetite with a vengeance and he’d had no trouble demolishing the bowl of stew he’d been given. He was just wiping the bowl with some bread when someone sat down at his table. He looked up to see a vaguely familiar face. “Hello?”

The young woman smiled and slid a business card across the table to him. “Sergeant Fleischer said you might want to talk to me.”

Marcus pulled the card closer and read it. “Dita Petrini, licensed professional counselor.” He flicked it back across the table. “I don’t need a shrink.”

“I’m not a shrink, I’m a counselor. I help people deal with issues. The police call me in every time there’s a shooting, especially when there are fatalities. Sergeant Fleischer said you were pretty shaken up.”

Marcus remembered how he’d spilled his guts and stared hard at the woman. “I bet she said a hell of a lot more than that.”

Dita smiled. “Maybe. But I can help you, Marcus.” She pulled a pamphlet from her bag. “You almost hit your wife on that bus, Marcus. You have anger management issues. I can’t help you unless you want to be helped, but think of your family.” She placed the pamphlet under Marcus’ nose and got to her feet. “Think of your family.”

Marcus stared after the woman. He saw her stop to chat to several police officers before leaving the canteen. Then he looked down at the pamphlet she’d left behind. It was entitled “Dealing with anger.” He started to read it, and recognized himself in the case studies.

A paper bag landed on his table with a thud. “They’ve hosed the worst of it off. Are you ready to go home?” Estes Frost asked.

Marcus peeked into the bag and saw his dirty clothes. “I guess I better see if I’ve got a home to go to,” he said as he shoved the pamphlet into one of the coverall pockets and got to his feet.

“You do. You wife called when she heard the news.”

“I don’t deserve her,” he muttered as he picked up the bag containing his damp clothes.

“So do something about it.”

Marcus put a hand in his pocket and felt the pamphlet Dita Petrini had given him. If he still had a marriage to save, then he’d call her tomorrow.

****

Marcus felt his heart jump when he saw Jocelyn and the children lined up on the veranda. He held out a hand to Estes. “Thanks.”

Estes griped his hand firmly. “No, thank you. But for you we might have lost Officer Schulze.”

“I hate to disillusion you, Estes, but everything I did out there I did for me.”

“Sure, I understand that. But if you hadn’t been there Schulze might be dead.”

Marcus climbed out of the car, with his bag of clothes held to his chest. He waited for Estes to back out and go wherever he was supposed to be going. Jocelyn and the children hadn’t moved. Scared of his reception, he crossed the drive and walked up to them, stopping just short of them. “Hi.”

Suddenly he had three warm bodies slammed into him.

“I was so worried about you,” Jocelyn said.

“The man on TV said you’re a hero, daddy,” Britney said.

That made him feel guilty. He gently pushed Jocelyn away so he could crouch down. He dropped his bag of clothes and laid a hand on each of her shoulders. “Heroes don’t terrify their own families, Britney. I’m sorry I scared you back on the bus.” He turned to Bailey, who hadn’t said a word yet. “And I’m sorry I scared you, too.” He felt in his coverall pocket for the pamphlet and held it up for Jocelyn. “I’m going to call her tomorrow.”

Jocelyn looked at the pamphlet and tears started to well in her eyes. “Let’s go inside.”

 

The House on Gray’s Run

 

Dina Frost sat with the rest of the household watching the latest news on TV. They’d just announced the identity of the two men killed in a shootout with police. Marcus Acton, Bailey Acton’s dad, had once again been proclaimed a hero. She sighed. Bailey was going to be unbearable at school on Monday. Still, it had been good to hear that Bruno’s brothers would never hurt him again. She glanced over to see how he’d taken the news.

She had to smile. Bruno, with his one track mind, was every cat’s favorite person. Right now he was carefully running a comb through the long fur of the household’s catriarch. He’d been doing it for the last half hour, and it didn’t look like Queenie was going to tire of his ministrations any time soon. Bruno didn’t seem to care that his bullying brothers were dead, but she was glad they’d received their comeuppance. There was still the third man, but Dina was sure the police were doing everything they could to catch him.

****

 

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