Chapter 3: Fort Slaughter, February 3, 2014

Chapter 3

         Riley slumped in the front seat of the squad car and glared at the cup of de-caf in her hand. She needed caffeine. She needed sugar. She needed a double shot of Jameson’s in the cup. “Okay,” she muttered, “I don’t want to do this and I’ve got to do this and so I might as well slam down the rest of this squirrel piss and drive to Jillene’s and do this.”

Jillene and Cal Jenner would win Weirdo Prom Queen and King ever year, if the Weirdos elected a queen and king, or for that matter, put on a prom. Cal was a quiet guy, a guy with a grin, a guy who was the best investigative reporter in Arizona – North or South. Jillene was a tiny woman with a black belt in Aikido and the designer and builder of the chicken-wire caged backyard in which a couple dozen cats lived in feline satori. None of that in Flagstaff would have been considered particularly weird, except that the Jenners had been faithfully married for over twenty years. That was weird. The faithfully part. In Flagstaff.

Riley parked in front the Jenner’s mid-Seventies standard ranch house.  Jillene’s bike was chained to the front railing. Riley wished it weren’t. She put on her hat, climbed out, locked the car and wished all of that had taken an hour – or a day – or a year.

Before Riley could start to walk toward the house, Jillene opened the front door. She nodded to Riley.  “It’s Cal, right?” She walked down the sidewalk and looked up into Riley’s eyes. “It’s bad. Right.” No question in her voice, no doubt. No way to Aikido the news.

“The worst,” Riley said.

Jillene shook her head – the way an animal might try to shake off pain. “I knew it when he never came back last night. I called his cell and it went to voice over and over again. I would have tried to find him, but he wouldn’t tell me where he was going. ‘Stuff for a story,’ he said. I asked him if it was for one of his stories or for the paper. He said, ‘Doesn’t matter. Just a story.’”

Riley knew better than to touch Jillene. She knew that Jillene would make the next move. Not every woman liked touch. She’d learned that at the in-service in the Women’s Shelter. You never knew a woman’s backstory. You never knew what a touch might mean. Riley shivered.

“You cold?” Jillene said. “We can go inside. I’ll put the kettle on.”

“No, not cold, but let’s go in,” Riley said.

 

The dark-haired woman leaned in toward her computer screen. Concerned Citizen had posted on FLAGscanner’s FB page: “Something going on out at Fort Slaughter. Sparkly red and blue lights.” Hawkeye had replied: “Fort Slaughter?”  CC: “Yeah, Fort Slaughter – you know, used to be Tuthill till they slaughtered all the trees.”

Barbara Lennerz leaned back in her chair. Cal Jenner hadn’t stood her up. He’d been, as they say, unavoidably delayed. She resisted the urge to respond to CC. It was about to be better to be careful about how she responded. If they had gotten to Cal, they probably knew about her. And, if they knew about her, they were not happy.

She went into her email account. Nothing. She was glad Cal hadn’t sent her a message. There had been one phone call. Short. She’d erased it immediately from her cell. She wondered if they’d been surveilling his every move and, if they had, it was time to ditch her cell.

She heard the front door open and glanced at her watch. Tanner, just home from school. “Hey Mom,” he called out. “I’m starving. What’s for lunch?”

Barbara walked out into the kitchen. Tanner was head-deep in the fridge. “Hey,” she said, “’Hi, Mom. How was your morning?’”

Tanner emerged with a package of hot dogs in his hand. “Oh yeah, right, Hi, Mom, How was your morning?”  He carried the hot dogs to the stove and pulled out the old iron frying pan. “Oh, forgive me, dearest mother, how about if I make lunch?”

 

Jillene cradled the cup of tea in her hands. “I wonder if I’ll ever feel warm again,” she said. “How come all I feel is cold?”

“Probably because you are,” Riley said. “Shock. System shuts down. You know the drill. Want me to get you a blanket?”

“Sure,” Jillene said, “there’s one on the couch.”

Riley walked down the hall to the living room. An old Navajo eye-dazzler blanked was thrown over the back of the couch. She lifted it off carefully. A throw-away cell phone bounced down to the floor.

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