SETUP: Jessie (our heroine) is at home, hoping to relax after a stressful day at work – where a fellow employee was murdered. She calls Alex Raney, a police detective investigating the murder, to verify that he received information she'd given to Gus Colcannon to pass along to Raney.
I pulled the thin curtains aside and focused the binoculars, expecting to see the small herd of deer who'd been making forays into my yard, led by a male I'd dubbed Broke-Antler Buck.
What I saw was a man with a rifle.
"Well, shit," I muttered.
Oops. I'd forgotten I was still holding the phone. "Sorry. There's a guy with a gun out here in my back yard."
Raney had shouted. I jerked the phone in surprise. "A hunter, out here in the woods, behind my house. Hold on a second." I put the phone down and peered outside. Raney's voice was loud behind me on the phone. The angle was wrong from this room. I picked up the phone. "I'm going back into the living room for a minute. Do you want me to call you back?"
"There's a man outside with a gun?"
He spoke fast and loud. Voices in the background behind him sounded excited.
"Yeah. They're not supposed to." My house was on the fringes of town and west of me was open land. Hunters often used the trail although they weren't supposed to be so close to the houses. I refocused the lenses, straining to see details, but all I could pick out was a camo jacket, brown pants, and a head in a dark ski mask as it turned to face up the hill, toward me. "Well, that's stupid," I said.
I recognized that distinctive raspy voice. "Gus?"
"Answer the damn question, Jessie."
"My, my, aren't we in a pissy mood? Why are you talking to me? Where's the cop?" I held the binoculars up again. I was right. The hunter wasn't wearing blaze orange, which was either stupid or illegal or both. I took a step back from the window and turned. That's when I saw Broke-Antler Buck standing down slope and twenty yards to the right of the hunter, who appeared to be oblivious to the presence of a large amount of deer meat on the hoof.
"Raney's right here. Answer the question--what's stupid?"
"The hunter isn't wearing orange. I thought that was a law. And there's a deer right there. He's sort of a tame deer. Well, not tame, but he's not spooky wild like some deer. Man, that bastard is going to kill that buck right on my land. That is so not right. Listen, I've got to deal with this, I'll call you back."
"Jessamine Katherine Patrokus, don't you dare hang up this phone!"
"What?" I almost dropped the phone in surprise. "How did you get my name?" I turned the binoculars back on the hunter, who still seemed ignorant of Buck standing nearby. I didn't want that deer killed on my land. The bastard hunter would probably demand to bring the carcass up the hill near my house, which was the closest point to any road. The smell and the blood would attract every critter for miles around. Not to mention the fact I'd grown attached to that stupid deer in the two years I'd watched him grow up. He wasn't the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, but that didn't mean he deserved to be shot like a fish in a barrel.
"What's going on there?" Gus demanded.
"I have to deal with this. Just hold on for a second. I'm not hanging up so don't get excited." I set the phone on the coffee table and pulled my slingshot from the coffee table drawer. I kept a cache of rocks near the door to the deck and I paused to take a handful before stepping out on to the slick planking. I'd practiced for hours to keep the crows away from my bird feeders and the coons out of the compost heap so I was a good shot. I moved two steps forward and took aim for the trees above and behind the hunter.
Buck heard me and broke cover. The hunter, startled, turned at the sound. I fired five quick shots, which thunked into the trees around the human. As I moved back to the shelter of the house he twisted, lost his balance and tumbled backwards toward the pond. Despite days of below-zero temperatures, I knew it wasn't frozen solid. That hunter would get a cold, dirty bath if there were any justice in the world.
When I got into the house I heard squawking from the phone. "I'm back." I picked up the phone and hurried down the hall to the den. I peeked out and saw the dark shape of the hunter, getting to his feet. The deer was nowhere in sight. I smiled with satisfaction.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"I told you, there was this hunter out back. I wasn't going to let him shoot a deer down the hill from my house. Do you know how--"
"What did you do?"
"I used my slingshot to scare the deer away." I decided not to mention I'd aimed at the hunter. That might be against the law. "Honestly, aren't you overreacting? This kind of crap happens all the time."
"It doesn't happen on the day somebody dies in your office, does it?"
I paused as I walked back toward the living room. He had a point. "So what are you saying? I'm supposed to call the police?" Then I remembered. "Oh. Wait. I was talking to the police. Put him back on the phone--the sympathetic one."
"Jessie, I swear, you need to--"
"Wait." I heard a noise in the woods behind the house. I went to the window. The hunter was still out there. He had his arms raised.
That's when I heard the gunshot.