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Murder Among the Oaks

by Bill Kowaleski


The next morning Cindy awoke to an empty bed. Sean stood by the bedroom window, staring at the clearing behind the house. He pointed at a spot in the trees. “There she is, on the hunting platform. I can see her.”

“Really?” Cindy stood up, then ducked. “But we’ve got to stay down. She could see us through the window.”

“Exactly. I want her to fire. And as soon as she does, hit the ground.”

“What? I don’t want to get shot! You’re sure about this?” She shook with fear, but he kept smiling, standing in front of the window, directly in the line of fire.

“You’re not going to get hurt at all. I told you to trust me. Come over here and take a look at this glorious Wisconsin morning. She’s not going to shoot until she sees both of us.”

Cindy approached the window. As soon as she stopped moving two muffled shots rang out. Almost simultaneously she heard two slapping sounds. The window shattered.

“Fall!” ordered Sean. He was already on his way down.

She dropped to the floor, feeling for the bullet hole with both hands, but there was no pain, no hole. She was uninjured.

“Now stay there,” he said. He crawled very low to the floor toward the front door. It was at moments like these that she realized how alien he was. No human could press himself so closely to the ground, could move so rapidly while slithering like a snake.

Rustling footsteps approached the window. She put her head down, played dead. The footsteps moved toward the front door. She held her breath as she heard the door open. She lay face down on the floor, along the bed, her head just barely beyond its edge where she could see the barrel of a rifle pushing the door slowly open.

Sean sprang in the air and then — a blur of movement, high-pitched squawks, banging, a single shot, rustling of leaves as they rolled outside.

She dared to take a deep breath. If Gina walked through that door, Cindy knew it was all over for her. She realized it didn’t matter if she stood, and so she did, just in time to hear Sean shout, “Call the Sheriff! I can’t hold her forever.”

She ran outside to see Sean lying on the ground, his legs and arms wrapped around Gina. Cindy picked up the rifle, then made the call.

Walsh and Gustafson were there in minutes.

“So, Sean, let me get this straight. You saw her up in that hunting platform when you woke up. And these are from her gun, right?”

Gustafson held the two bullets at arms length in their plastic evidence bag and looked at Gina. He shook his head slowly and said, “Not much of a shot, are you?”

Gina, handcuffed to the squad car, hissed through clenched teeth, “I didn’t miss. I have no idea why that bitch is still alive.”

“Shielding,” said Sean. “I’m going to follow these guys to the station, Cindy. You stay here.”

* * *

“Shielding,” Cindy said. “What did you mean by that?”

“Oh, yeah. While you were sleeping I put shielding over the window, some stuff I got through the transporter. Nothing gets through that stuff.”

“Why didn’t you tell me? I was terrified!”

“Yeah, I should have told you, but I didn’t want you to tip her off. I wanted her to shoot and come into the cabin.”

She shook her head. Sometimes he just didn’t understand her. “So what happened at the station?”

“It’s the same rifle used on that Sirian in the woods. She told the police that Gerry was the one who shot the Sirian they found, but he was there and denied it. Gustafson is convinced she’s the murderer.”

“Well, that about sews it up then,” said Cindy.

“I wish you were right,” said Sean, shaking his head.

“What’s the problem? She’s gonna stay locked up, don’t you think?”

Sean shook his head. “Springing someone from your prisons is easy for a Sirian clan working together. They’ll free her tonight, and then she’ll put on a new disguise. Gina will disappear, never to be seen again, and you’ll start seeing somebody new around here.”

“And she’ll try to kill us again,” said Cindy.

“Exactly. It’ll never be safe here with her around. So it’s time we took the initiative.”

Then he told her what they had to do.

* * *

The town lockup was nothing but a holding cell, poorly guarded at the best of times. Deputy Walsh sat at a beat-up metal desk, playing solitaire on his computer when Cindy walked in. Her eyes scanned the room, quickly finding the key hung on the wall opposite the cell.

“Can I talk to her a minute, Jim?” she asked.

“Sure, just sit in the chair there that’s bolted to the floor. Sheriff got the idea from a movie: it’s too far away for you to pass anything through the bars to the prisoner.”

“You guys are so smart!” Cindy sat on the chair, but Gina turned her back to her and stared at the wall. “Go away, town slut. I’ll be taking care of you soon, and you’ll never know what hit you.”

Cindy snorted a cynical laugh. “Won’t be but a minute darlin’, and we’ll be taking care of you.”

The door to the outside opened and Sean entered. He smiled at Walsh, raised his right forearm, and pressed on it with his left hand. A thick, bluish gas gushed out of pores in his forearm, quickly filling the room. Walsh’s head fell to the desk, and seconds later, Gina toppled slowly onto the cold, hard prison floor.

Cindy, who’d swallowed the bitter, gloopy antidote seconds before entering the police station, rushed to the key, opened the cell, and grabbed Gina’s feet, dragging her toward the front door.

Sean held the door open. Outside Cindy could see the Infiniti parked so that the passenger side was nearest the curb, its back door wide open, the seat pushed forward to facilitate stuffing Gina in the back.

But as soon as they crossed the threshold and were outside, Gina came to life. She rolled into a ball, sprang to her feet, and turned to run. Sean tackled her, but she chopped down hard on his head, stunning him. His grip loosened and she was again on her feet. Cindy sprang on top of her, took control from the back, wrapped her up with her long, muscular legs, and squeezed.

Gina struggled, but she couldn’t escape. Cindy had control of her, but how could she get her into the car? Sean wobbled to his feet, looking toward the two women locked together on the sidewalk. Then she heard the clanking of a diesel engine approaching from behind. She turned her head and saw Gerry Andersson’s Super Duty pulling to the curb just behind her. Gerry jumped out and took in the odd scene on the sidewalk.

“Well, what’s happening here?” he asked.

“Gerry, honey!” Gina whined. “Save me from these animals! I just know they’re going to shove me through the transporter to Aldebaran Penultima.”

Gerry bent down close to her artificial face. He spoke through clenched teeth, his voice filled with anger. “You want me to save you? You who tried to pin that killing on me? You who already killed one of our kind, and tried to kill Sean and Cindy? You who planned to take over my business once I was in prison so you could corner the market in oak up here? I don’t think so.”

“No, you’ve got it all wrong. I was always on your side, my love. Please, Gerry.”

“Shut up, you whiny witch!” Gerry shouted.

He rummaged a few seconds in the bed of the pickup, then pulled a rope from it. He squatted down and tied Gina’s legs together, then her arms. Finally he pulled two handkerchiefs from his pockets. One he wadded and stuffed in her mouth. The other he tied across her mouth, producing an effective gag. “OK, Cindy, you can let her go now. She’s secured.”

Sean stood beside Gerry, shaking his head. “She’s really poisonous, isn’t she? I know from firsthand experience.”

“Yeah, she told me about that,” Gerry said. “But of course you were the villain in that tale. So, Sean, is it still going to be Aldebaran Penultima?”

“Oh, I think so. The locals find the Sirians that get dumped there most useful as house servants and slave laborers. After a few beatings, she’ll adapt.”

Gina moaned from behind her gag. She struggled fiercely, twisting, rubbing the rope against the sidewalk.

Gerry laughed. “Perfect! Stuff her into that fancy car of yours and take care of it, would you?”

As Cindy positioned Gina’s writhing body in the back seat, Sean asked, “So Ger, I never really knew your story. You’ve been here a long time, haven’t you?”

“Yeah. In fact Gerry Andersson is my third identity. Altogether, I’ve been here, let’s see... about seventy years. I discovered Earth, I shipped the first oak back home. I developed the disguises you all use now.”

“Wow!” Sean said. “You’re our founding father! But why do you stay here? Don’t you get homesick for Sirius Prime?”

“You know, I think this is the most perfect place I’ve ever been. The people are great, the scenery is beautiful. I even like the winters. And then there’s all this oak...”

Cindy, leaning against the car, asked, “So Ger, is there anything that could get you to go back to your planet?”

“Well, there is one thing. If only I could get broadcasts of all the Packers’ games...”

Sean laughed, then looked at the police station door. “I gotta take care of Miss Congeniality right now, but Walsh is gonna wake up in about a half hour. What should we tell him?”

Gerry sighed. “All these lies, all these elaborate ruses: it’s just getting too difficult to cover it all up. Maybe it’s finally time they knew.”

Copyright © 2013 by Bill Kowaleski

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