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Blue Moon (Chapter 24)

I grabbed the rifle right out of the guy's hands.

"Hey!"

He tried to get it back, but I shoved him with one firm hand on his chest. I nearly passed out from the beer fumes, but I managed to stay upright and keep him from snatching the gun.

Jerry Uber wasn't the brightest star in the sky. His shaved head only proved my point. Jerry didn't have the smoothest noggin or the best skin. Right now he looked like a lumpy egg with diaper rash.

"You can't carry a rifle without a case in the middle of town, Jerry. You know that."

"How am I gonna shoot rabid wolves if my gun's in the case?"

"Shoot?" I put my finger in my ear and jiggled it. "What?"

"Me and the other men." He puffed out his chest. His beer belly went with it. "We're gonna do what you cops haven't."

I glanced up and down the street. The tourists were gone. Only the gun-toting citizens remained.

Vigilantes. I hated these guys.

"Yeah, well you're gonna have a tough time without your gun." I headed for my car.

"Huh?"

Jerry danced around behind me as if the beer he'd already drunk today needed to be released right now. Maybe I'd get lucky and he'd relieve himself on the street. Then I could arrest him and there'd be one less drunken idiot in the woods.

"Thass my gun. You can't do that."

"Actually, I can." I unloaded the thing and pocketed the bullets, then laid it on the passenger seat of my car. "You can pick it up from Zee when you're sober. Bring along your case."

"Zelda?" He shook his head and put up his hands. "Aw, Jessie. You know, she scares the crap out of me."

"You, me, and everyone else in town. That's why she's in charge of the guns."

Since Jerry and I had had dealings before, he didn't argue. He went home. No doubt to get another gun.

I picked up my radio, not bothering to give my call sign, since I wasn't technically working. "I need to talk to Clyde right now."

"He isn't here. Can I help you?"

The voice was new –  young, hopeful. She wouldn't last.

"Yeah, find him. Tell him we've got armed citizens all over town and the tourists are leaving."

I spent the next hour confiscating weapons. When my car was full and my pockets weighted with bullets, I drove to the station.

I knew I was fighting a losing battle. These guys all had more guns. They'd be out in the woods come nightfall. Someone was going to get shot. I could only hope that that someone wasn't me.

Clyde had never materialized, which was strange. For all his minor annoyances, he had always been on top of things.

No Mandenauer, either. Not so strange –  considering the source.

After I'd tagged, recorded, then locked up all the guns, I did manage to find Zee. In the break room with a cup of coffee on her left, a lit cigarette on her right, and a roast beef sandwich the size of a small dog in the center.

I swear she ate red meat at every meal. Zee's longevity was a never-ending mystery, like so many others. I'd heard stories of Great-aunt Helga who smoked all her life and lived to be a hundred and four, contrasted with stories of jogging health-food fanatics who keeled over at forty-two. Go figure.

Since Zee was enjoying herself, I backed out of the break room so she could continue.

"Where you goin' ?"

She didn't even turn my way. The woman had ears like a bat. And she looked like one, too.

"I need to find Clyde."

"Sit."

Zee indicated the chair to her right. With a glance at the smoldering cigarette, I took the one to her left.

"Want half?" She pointed at the sandwich.

The beef hung out of the bread –  thick, red, and juicy. The scent, combined with that of horseradish, reminded me of the wolf pyre in the woods. I shook my head and swallowed hard.

Zee shrugged. "More for me."

She made short work of the sandwich. The woman could certainly eat. How she could be stick-thin was another of life's little mysteries. Although now that I thought about it, Zee had a habit of gorging a day here, a day there, then existing on cigarettes and coffee in between.

With a sigh and a pat for her distended belly, she sat back and lifted her cigarette. I made a face. She blew smoke rings at me.

I waved them away. "You know I hate that."

"Which is why I do it." She winked. "I hear some evidence has turned up missing."

"Yeah."

"Since I'm in charge of the evidence room, that upsets me."

The sharp tap of her fingernail against the table punctuated Zee's irritation. I braced myself for the explosion. Instead, she took another drag and blew it out slower than slow.

"I didn't exactly want to dance a jig when I heard."

"Any clue where the stuff is?"

"If I knew, then it wouldn't be missing."

She lifted one eyebrow. "Are you getting smart with me?"

"No, ma'am. I need to find Clyde."

"Good luck. He went ten-seven after he left the hospital."

"Then I'll call him at home." I shoved back my chair.

Zee grabbed my arm. "Leave him be."

Something in Zee's voice made me stay where I was. "Why?"

She took another drag on her cigarette, blew the smoke out the corner of her mouth in a stream that shot away from me for a change. "He's taking it hard."

"What?"

"Clyde went to school with Mel's dad. He had to tell Tony what happened. Cherry's a mess."

"Oh." I didn't know what else to say.

"I told Clyde about the tourists and the gun freaks. He called in some extra help from Clearwater."

I thought of the amount of citizenry with guns, the depth, darkness, and expanse of the woods. .

"That'll work."

My sarcasm must have been showing, because Zee snorted. "Who knows, maybe the idiots will thin out the wolf population."

"Or the other way around."

"Either way, we win."

I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry.

"Heard from your mom lately?" Zee asked.

"Who?"

Zee lit another cigarette from the embers of the first. "Guess not."

She took a deep drag and let the smoke drift out on a contented sigh. She and I hadn't had a good talk in a long time. Considering our age difference, you wouldn't think we could. But Zee was young at heart, despite the probable black tar therein. She was the best friend I'd ever had, and I loved her.

"You gonna tell Mom about the guy?"

"What guy?"

"Don't screw with me, girl. Cadotte. Is he as good as he looks?"

"When did you see him? And how do you know… " I fumbled for a word. "Anything?"

"I have my sources."

She no doubt did. Sources she'd never reveal to me. The woman knew everything that went on in Miniwa. It was downright terrifying. And often quite handy. Unless it was me she knew everything about.

I narrowed my eyes. "You didn't tell Clyde, did you?"

Zee shook her head. "Clyde's got enough problems right now. He thinks of you as his daughter –  or near enough. He'd kill Cadotte if he found out you were banging him."

"Nice," I murmured. Though banging was probably a pretty good word, considering what we'd been doing.

But I was more interested in Zee's observation of Clyde's feelings for me. "Clyde thinks of me like a daughter?" heard the hope in my voice and cursed myself. I'd never had a father. I didn't need one now.

Zee contemplated me a moment. "Sure. Just like I think of you as the granddaughter I'll never have."

"No gramma worth her salt would ever use the word banging."

Zee cackled. "Aren't you glad?"

"Damn straight."

Zee and I had talked about many things over the years, but mostly present tense. What we'd done today, what we'd like to do tomorrow, whose butt was better than Jimmy Smits's.

She'd told me once that her family was dead. She'd come to Miniwa because she had nowhere else to go and stayed because she liked the trees. Her expression had been so sad at the time, I never had the heart to ask her anything about her past again.

"So what are you gonna tell Mummy Dearest about the guy?"

"Uh, nothing?"

"That would be my advice. She'd have a conniption."

"You got that right."

Zee had met my mother once. It had been hate at first sight –  on both their parts. My mother said I clung to Zee like moss to a tree just to annoy her, and maybe she was right. But Zee had given me more affection and support in the years I had worked with her than my mother had given me all of my life.

Pathetic but true.

"Although I might have to agree with Mummy on this one."

I gaped. "What?"

Zee shrugged. "Unless you're just doing him."

He'd actually been doing me –  quite often –  but that was my business.

"There's nothing serious starting up with you and him, is there?" Zee was staring at me too closely. I began to sweat. "You haven't mistaken sex for love or anything, have you?"

"Of course not. Do I look stupid?"

"Never said that you did. I just don't want you to get hurt."

"And that would happen because… ?"

"Mixed relationships never work out."

I knew Zee didn't much care for the Indians, but I'd never expected her to be so blatant in her prejudice.

"What are you trying to say, Zee?"

"I went out with a beautiful man once." Her eyes went dreamy. "It was nice at first. But not for long. He actually thought I should be grateful." She snorted. "Women propositioned him right in front of me like I wasn't even there."

I blinked. "By mixed, you mean –  "

"Cadotte's hot, Jessie. You're… " She lifted one shoulder, then lowered it.

"Not. I know. Big deal."

"Now, now. No need to get testy. Face the facts. You aren't Marilyn Monroe. A guy like him, pretty soon he'll start listening to all those people who are asking him what he sees in you."

I'd thought the same thing. But the more I got to know Cadotte, the less I could see him caring what people thought.

Second Shift appeared in the doorway. She glanced at Zee, flinched, then focused on me. "Jessie, we got trouble in the woods."

"No shit," Zee muttered.

"If you can't be constructive… " I began.

"Shut the fuck up," Zee finished.

It was, after all, her favorite saying.

"What's the matter?" I asked the youngster, who appeared to have swallowed a frog.

"The um… uh… " She waved her hand back toward the command center.

"Two words?" I held up two fingers, then tugged on my ear. "Sounds like?"

She tilted her head and stared.

"Don't confuse her, Jessie." Zee slurped what must be, by now, ice-cold coffee.

"You never let me have any fun." I sighed. "The um… uh… what?" I asked.

"The other patrol. Two Adam Four."

Henry. "What about him?"

"Shots fired in the forest. Screaming. Something about an ambulance. Backup. Help."

My gaze met Zee's.

"Let the games begin," she muttered.

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