BY NANCY BOYCE
Copyright is held by the author.
TAMMY HEARD a gunshot. Damn deer hunters, she thought. Her golden retriever broke free of her grip and ran. Tammy called Riley as she chased after him into the woods. The brush thickened and she soon lost sight of Riley. She stopped to listen for him and thought she heard moaning. She slowed her pace, stopping and listening frequently. She didn’t like being in the woods during hunting season. She wondered if the sound was coming from an injured animal. She could hear running water; she must be closer to the river than she thought. She broke through the trees and saw a woman lying by the water’s edge. The woman turned in her direction. Her face changed from terror to relief as she realized there was someone to help. Tammy ran to her side, most of her left shoulder and sleeve were soaked in blood.
“It’s going to be all right,” Tammy said. “What happened?”
“I was shot,” the woman said.
“Damn hunters,” Tammy said aloud this time. “I’ll call 9-1-1.”
Tammy reached into her pocket, but her cell phone wasn’t there.
“I must have lost my cell phone while I was running. Let’s see if we can stop the bleeding.”
“Are you a nurse?
“No, but my husband, Joe, taught me first aid.”
Tammy took off her jacket and her fleece vest. She folded her vest and placed it on top of the woman’s shirt against the wound. She took a plastic bag from her pocket that she kept on hand to pick up after Riley. She gently lifted the woman’s shoulder and tied the bag, hoping to keep the vest in place. The woman winced with pain. Tammy placed her coat over the woman to keep her warm.
“The vest is quite tight against your shoulder. The pressure should help stop the bleeding.”
“Is your husband in the medical profession?” the woman asked.
“No, Joe’s a private investigator. My name’s Tammy.”
“Norma,” the woman said.
“Nice to meet you, Norma. Try to keep quiet and relax. We need to keep you still.”
Tammy knew she had to get Norma to the hospital quickly.
“I’m going to have to get help.” Tammy stood to leave.
“No, don’t leave me,” Norma said. “What if he comes back?”
“You mean this wasn’t an accident?” Tammy heard a sound in the bushes and turned to look. Now it was her turn to be scared.
“Riley.” Tammy went over to Riley, dropped down to her knees and hugged him.
“C’mon, boy.” Riley followed Tammy back to Norma and then waded through the river lapping up the water as he went.
“Norma, I have an idea.”
She called Riley to her side and then held his face with both hands and looked him directly in the eyes. “Go home, Riley. Daddy, home.” Riley hesitated. “Home, Riley, home.” Riley looked at her, turned and ran. Joe will find us, Tammy thought. He has to find us.
“Honey, I’m home.” Joe tossed his keys on the front hall table. He never tired of saying that. Joe and Tammy had been back together for a year. Joe hung up his coat and noticed that Riley’s leash was gone. They must have gone for a walk, he thought. He stretched out on the sofa and turned on the TV. He was sound asleep within 15 minutes.
When Joe awoke it was dusk outside. Tammy and Riley should have been home by now, he thought. Joe heard whining. “Riley?”
Joe went to the front door and saw Riley looking in. He opened the door and Riley jumped up on him. “Off, boy, you’re all wet. Where’s your mom?” Joe turned on the porch light and went outside. “Tammy?” Joe went back inside. He squatted down and rubbed Riley’s head. “This can’t be good.”
Joe tried phoning Tammy’s phone, but didn’t get an answer. He decided to drive the routes that Tammy and Riley normally walked. Joe drove Tammy’s vehicle; Riley rode shotgun.
Joe looked over at Riley. “Hey, you’re getting the seat wet. How’d you get wet? Damn, I should have thought of that sooner.”
Joe made an abrupt U-turn and headed towards the bicycle path through the woods. He knew Tammy liked to walk along that path, but she didn’t normally venture down to the river. He couldn’t travel the path in his vehicle, but the side roads crossed the path regularly.
This is crazy, he thought, I can’t see a damn thing. The bluetooth light on the dash turned blue and the screen showed, “connection made.” He kept driving. The light went off and the screen showed, “disconnected.” He backed up, “connection made.” Joe turned off the car and grabbed his flashlight. “C’mon, Riley, let’s find your mom.”
Joe shone the flashlight ahead of him as he walked along the bicycle path. He pulled out his cell phone and called Tammy’s number. He heard a ringing in the woods. He headed in the direction of the ringing. He caught a glimpse of something shiny and bent over and picked up Tammy’s phone. He started walking towards the river. “Where are you, darling?”
Riley took off and Joe followed as quickly as he could in dense brush in the dark. He heard Tammy’s voice saying Riley’s name and called to her.
Tammy ran towards Joe and they hugged, but she broke away from his embrace quickly and led him to Norma.
“Joe, call 9-1-1. Norma’s been shot and she’s gone into shock.”
Tammy emerged from a hot shower and sat down at the kitchen table. She had been chilled to the bone by the time Joe found her. She was happy that Joe had made dinner even if it was Stouffers mac and cheese. He never had learned to cook in their time apart.
“How’re you feeling?” Joe asked.
“Much better, thanks,” Tammy said.
“If it’s okay with you, I’d like to discuss your conversation with Norma,” Joe said. “You told me Norma was shot intentionally.”
“She said the guy told her it was a warning,” Tammy said.
“What was he warning her about?”
“She said she didn’t know.”
“Did you believe her?” Joe asked.
“She seemed evasive, but she was scared and in a lot of pain, so it was hard to know if she was telling the truth,” Tammy said.
“What else did you talk about?”
“I had asked Norma to be still and quiet, so I did most of the talking in my attempt to distract her,” Tammy said. “I talked a lot about you and Riley and I told her how happy we’ve been since we reconciled.”
“Try to think of the things that Norma told you,” Joe said.
“Her husband’s name is Bill. He’s a local land developer. They’ve been married for almost 30 years and they have two grown sons. I think that’s about it,” Tammy said.
“Sometimes when I’m trying to solve a case, I find there’s some little thing that gnaws at me, something that just doesn’t seem quite right,” Joe said. “Did Norma say anything to you that struck you as strange, anything that you’ve been wondering about since then?”
“Norma asked me if I believed in second chances,” Tammy said.
“Do you think she meant a second chance at life?” Joe asked.
“Well that’s the part that’s been bothering me. I assumed that’s what she meant and I did my best to reassure her,” Tammy said.
“And now?” Joe asked.
“Now, I’m wondering if she meant a second chance with her husband.”
“Joe, let’s go for a coffee and let the ladies talk,” Bill said.
Joe and Tammy had gone to see Norma in the hospital the next day and met her husband Bill.
“Norma tells me that you’re a private investigator,” Bill said. They had settled into a quiet table in the corner with their coffee. “I’d like to hire you.”
“Do you want me to find the man that shot your wife?” Joe asked. “The police are already looking for him.”
“I know, but they’re not connecting the dots. Norma said the shooting was a warning, but she didn’t know why. I think it’s related to the problems that I’ve been having. I’ve kept it all from her until now,” Bill said.
“What kind of problems?”
“Arson. First it was small stuff like a rock through the front window of my office. I didn’t think anything of it, I thought it was kids, but now it’s escalated,” Bill said. “Fires have been set at different job sites.”
“When did this all start?” Joe asked.
“A couple of months ago.”
“Do you have any idea who’s behind this?”
“No, I have no idea. That’s why I need you,” Bill said.
“I’d like a list of anyone that was fired or quit shortly before the arson started.”
“Sure, Joe, but there won’t be many,” Bill said. “We don’t have big turnover in my company.”
“Have you bought any new properties lately?” Joe asked.
“I bought the Parson Road property four months ago.”
“Did that upset anyone? Competitors? Environmentalists?”
“It’s a large property and we’re clear cutting a lot of trees. We might have upset some environmentalists, but I haven’t heard anything,” Bill said. “As far as competitors, I don’t think the property was desirable enough to upset my competitors to the point where they’d resort to arson.”
“Let’s try and come up with a list of anyone that might have been upset by that purchase,” Joe said. “What about future plans? Are you currently bidding on any new properties?”
“The bidding closes on the Devon Street property in two weeks,” Bill said.
“Have you sent in your bid yet?”
“No, I had planned to send in my bid today, but obviously it’s going to have to wait.”
“Maybe that’s what someone was hoping for,” Joe said.
“Yeah, maybe,” Bill said, “but I just don’t see it. Again, the property doesn’t seem that significant.”
“Have you heard who else is bidding?”
“It’s currently being leased by Johnson Construction. I thought it would have been sold to them, but it went up for bid instead.”
“So, they’re a suspect,” Joe said. “Who’s the owner?”
“Frank Johnson, but I think you’re barking up the wrong tree,” Bill said. “Frank’s a decent guy.”
“What can you tell me about him?”
“He’s been in the business even longer than I have and his company is larger than mine.”
“Do you know him well?”
“No, not well, but we belong to the same club,” Bill said.
“His name sounds familiar,” Joe said.
“You may have read about him and his wife, Karen. She was abducted last year,” Bill said. “Frank paid the ransom, but Karen was never seen again.”
“I went to see Norma at her home today,” Tammy said.
“How is she?” Joe asked.
“She’s healing well, but she’s scared.”
“Does she think that she’s still in danger?”
“She thinks the guy that shot her works for someone from her club,” Tammy said.
“Why would someone from her club want to hurt her?” Joe asked.
“This guy from the club had been really friendly, showing up after her exercise classes, taking her to lunch,” Tammy said.
“What went wrong?”
“He’s a developer like Bill. At first she thought he talked business a lot, because it was something that they had in common,” Tammy said. “Then he started asking a lot of questions about Bill’s business, things that a competitor had no right in asking.”
“Do you know what kind of questions?”
“I think he was asking about properties that Bill was bidding on,” Tammy said. “That made Norma uncomfortable. She suspected it was the whole reason behind the friendship and she told him not to contact her anymore.”
“Has she told Bill?” Joe asked.
“No, I think she was feeling guilty about her new friendship with this guy and she hadn’t been very upfront with Bill. I told her that she didn’t have a choice now.”
“What’s the guy’s name? Joe asked.
“Thanks for coming by, Joe,” Bill said. “I was notified today that I was successful on my bid for the Devon Street property.”
“Congratulations,” Joe said.
“Thanks, Joe,” Bill said. “Norma told me about how Frank had been following her around the club, taking her out to lunch and trying to get information about my bidding plans.”
“You said it wasn’t a significant property,” Joe said. “Do you have any idea why Frank wanted the property that badly?”
“I have no idea. I’m worried about what he’ll do next.”
“I think you and Norma should come and stay with Tammy and me until we get to the bottom of this,” Joe said.
Joe and Bill sat quietly in Bill’s vehicle. They were parked close to the Devon Street property. Bill and Norma had moved into Joe and Tammy’s house and Bill had insisted on coming with Joe to do surveillance. Joe was convinced that there was something significant about that property.
A pickup truck drove up to the gate. A guy got out and unlocked the gate, drove through and then locked the gate again.
“I need to get out and have a better look,” Joe said.
“I’m coming with you,” Bill said.
“No, you stay here and watch me. If I flash a light in your direction, that’s your signal to call 9-1-1 and tell the police that there’s a break and enter in progress on your property,” Joe said. “If I get caught, you still need to call 9-1-1, but then you better get the hell out of here.”
Joe slipped out of the vehicle and walked slowly and quietly towards the gate. He watched the guy take a shovel out of his pickup truck and go to the side of the trailer that was used as a remote office. The guy dug for 20 minutes, heaved something into a wheel barrow and headed back to the truck.
Joe flashed a light at Bill and then crept back to the vehicle. Joe held his index finger up to his mouth and then motioned Bill to duck down. They slid down and waited. They heard the screech of tires and sirens and saw flashing lights.
Joe and Bill waited a few more minutes and then got out and walked towards the police. They had the guy in handcuffs and he was shouting that he wasn’t trespassing, that he worked there.
Joe recognized one of the officers and went over to him. “I think you’ll want to take a look in the back of his pickup truck. If I’m not mistaken, I think you’ll find the body of a missing person named Karen Johnson.”
“I still can’t believe that Frank Johnson killed his wife and buried her on that property,” Tammy said.
“It was probably a misguided underling who didn’t understand that Frank didn’t own the property,” Joe said. “Frank had no choice but to move the body once he lost that bid.”
“We made a good team, Joe,” Tammy said.
“We did, but don’t get any ideas,” Joe said. “This line of work’s too dangerous for you.
“It can’t be any more dangerous than a walk in the woods.”