1935 words (7 minute read)

Texts, Messages, Tracks

Quarter to eleven. Lucky’s phone was charging with the screen on, so she could monitor incoming messages. She pressed “connect” and left another voice message on Roger’s phone. Then she sent a short text: R U OK? Where R U?

          Right, Roger had said not to get in touch while he was tracking. But that was while he was running along the city streets and through the parks. Now he was in the truck with Jon, wasn’t he? At least one of them should be answering. Lucky looked across at Michelle and raised an eyebrow – but Michelle only shook her head, an impromptu ponytail bobbing with the movement.

          “Nothing back from Jon yet, either. But I just got a text from your mom’s lawyer, that Ann Davila person. She sent it to you, too, so you should have it any second. She wants us to call her.”

          “I’ll use the store landline, so we have the cell phones free for the guys,” Lucky replied. “Come over here, I’ll put it on speaker.” She could here the murmur of Sandy’s voice from the back room, talking to her friend Terry again, trying to track down pet stores, farm feed stores, all the places that might sell the complicated birdseed mix that turned up in the snow outside – and in larger quantity, in the paper bag at the foot of the stairs in Rivendell, Lucky’s father’s bookshop. It was a long shot, but – it must be important, Lucky thought, because finding it on the snow-covered sidewalk just outside the shop’s back door couldn’t be a coincidence. She was convinced it had come from the person on the snowmachine. He – or she – must have dropped it there.

          As she ran through her reasoning again, she punched the numbers on the store phone, reading them aloud from her cell-phone screen. She pressed “Speaker” and after two rings, heard the lawyer’s voice. “Davila here. Who’s calling, please?”

          “It’s Lucky Franklin. You asked me to call. My friend Michelle is on here with me.”

          “And Michelle’s last name is what? Just for my notes.”

          “Duprey. Michelle Duprey. Were you able to find out anything about the snowmachine? Was there enough of the registration in the video?”

          “Yes and no.” A rustle of papers followed. “You were right about the state seal on there. That used to be a state police snowmachine, for the emergency response unit. But it’s an old one, and the barracks sold four of them off to a snowmobile dealer in North Montpelier last summer.  I can’t reach the dealer this late. But I’ll call there in the morning and try to find out who the new owners were.”

          “You couldn’t call them at home?” That sounded rude and childish, but Lucky persisted. Michelle nodded agreement. “I mean, the guy on the machine – he was threatening to break into my family’s apartment. And he’s got to be the one who shot my dad.”

          “Yeah, I got that.” The sound of a spoon rattling in a cup came through over the phone. Ann Davila continued, “But you know, people don’t usually bring their business papers home anyway. And I don’t have police powers. I usually find a bit of courtesy gets me further with people. I’ll stop at the dealership with a box of donuts in the morning and see what I can find.”

          Reluctantly, Lucky admitted the plan sounded sensible. “We may know more from this end by morning, too. Two guys who are friends of ours are trying to track down where the snowmachine went after it left here.”

          “Not a great idea, if these criminals are dangerous,” the lawyer commented dryly. “In fact, not a great idea to be out driving tonight, period. We must have over a foot of snow already.”

          “They’ll be okay,” Lucky said. She hoped she was right. She realized Sandy was in the front room now, gesturing cheerfully. “Look, we’re working on another angle. Let’s text news back and forth for the rest of the night, unless something’s urgent.”

          “Rest of the night? Jeez, don’t you girls need to sleep like ordinary human beings? I’m shutting off my cell phone at eleven. I’ll check messages at six, when I get up. Can you deal with that?”

          “Sure. And thanks,” Lucky added. She checked that the phone ringer was turned up, so she wouldn’t miss any message or call from Roger. The longer the wait, the more her stomach clenched. Maybe eating supper had been a bad idea, all things considered.

          “Listen,” Sandy erupted, leaning forward and rapping a fistful of silver rings on the counter. “Terry figured out what kind of birdseed it is, and we know where it probably came from.”

          “Tell,” Michelle demanded.

          “You won’t believe this. It’s for racing pigeons. You know, the kind that used to carry messages. Terry said there are hardly any seed mixes with so many kinds of seed in them, and the peanuts and peas made it definite.”

          “Peanuts and peas?”

          “We sorted out some of what was in the bag. Peanuts, peas, corn, probably wheat, and a bunch of other grains. It’s all online. Terry tracked it down.” Sandy grinned. “She’s awesome. Wait til you meet her. Anyway, she did a search of the local stores, and it’s got to be from the Agway out on Route 2. They open at seven.”

          “Way to go.” Lucky sighed with relief. “There can’t be that many people around Montpelier who breed racing pigeons, can there?”

          A purr from Michelle’s cell phone stopped all of them. The green light on the top of it flashed as the purr repeated. “Jon,” Michelle breathed out. She lifted the phone to her ear and said only, “Are you safe?” A moment later she added what Lucky needed the answer to: “And Roger?” A soft whistle of concern escaped her as she listened. Finally she cut in again: “So what can we do from here? What? Yeah, I guess. Okay. We’ll download what we can, and I’ll send them over. Give us five minutes.”

          Lucky circled toward the computer in the back room as Michelle disconnected and listed aloud, “He needs a map of the cemetery. The train schedule and whether there are any announced delays. And the hour-by-hour forecast for the rest of the night.”

          Lucky asked, “What did he say about Roger? Are they still together?”

But before Michelle could answer, from Lucky’s half-charged phone on the counter came the unmistakable tune of “High School Never Ends.” “Speak,” she said briskly, starting the Google search for Green Mount Cemetery.

“Lucky? It’s me. Dad’s awake again, and somebody just called the nurses’ station, asking for information on him. Could you, like, send one of the guys over to give me a hand here? I can’t do everything, you know.”

“Jake, you’ve got to hang in there for another hour,” Lucky said with a quick glance at the time. “Wait, maybe Sandy can get there. We’ll get back to you in a couple minutes. Stuff’s going on here, too. Did Dad say anything? Where’s Mom?”

“She’s asleep down the hall. Dad just keeps asking where you are, and he says make sure you lock up when you go home.”

“Right.” Lucky gritted her teeth. Make that, if she went home. At this point, the dim bookstore felt like Investigation Central, and Sandy’s phone and Michelle’s were both getting incoming calls. “Tell Dad everything’s fine.”

“It is?” The little brother squeak came through at the end of the question.

Lucky realized there was another call coming in – from Roger. No, it was a text. She put as much confidence as she could into her voice as she told Jake, “Sure. Roger’s involved now, too.”

“Oh, that rocks. All right. I’ll tell Dad. Hey, I thought you weren’t seeing Roger anymore, since you started college. What’s up?”

            “Later, little brother. Go hang out with Dad, and make sure the nurses know he doesn’t want his condition talked about with strangers, or even anyone saying they’re family. Got it?”

            “Yeah, sure.”

            The map for Green Mount Cemetery was more about burial plots than anything else. Lucky found a couple of Google Earth images to send with it, to give some ideas of the terrain, even though they’d been taken with bare ground. Sandy called out that she had the train schedule – with tomorrow’s trains all indefinitely delayed. And Michelle forwarded the Accuweather forecast and a second one from Weather Underground. Lucky sent all the material, one attachment per e-mail, to Jon’s e-mail address, then paused to re-read Roger’s text message.

            She asked out loud, “Who’s Beth Jacob?”

            Sandy called across, “It’s not a who, it’s a what. It’s the Jewish temple in town.”

            “I don’t get it,” Lucky said. “Roger texted me and Jon in the same message. He wants Jon to pick him up by Beth Jacob. Here in town? That can’t be right. Oh, duh – it’s a section of the cemetery. Look, it’s right by Route 2, way at the end of Green Mount.”

            “That’s creepy,” Michelle commented. “Even in a snowstorm, it’s creepy. What are they doing at the cemetery?”

            “Ask them later. Hush, everyone, I’m going to answer this – it’s Jake again, calling into my dad’s phone. Hello?”

             “Lucky? How are you answering Dad’s phone? What’s going on?”

            “It’s complicated. How come you’re calling Dad’s number?”

            “I’m trying to get his voicemail. He’s upset about it and I promised I’d check it. He says he’s supposed to get some papers together for somebody, tonight.”

            “Just tell him we already took care of it. Hey, Jake?”

            “Yeah?”

            “You know anybody who owns racing pigeons? Or homing pigeons, or whatever?”

            Her brother paused, then said the last thing Lucky expected: “You mean, besides Sean Perkins and his dad?”

            Lucky could feel the pieces clattering into place, and she clutched her head with her right hand, and with the left hand swung her phone out in front of her so she could half shout at her brother: “Why didn’t you tell me that before?”

            “Stop yelling at me. This is the first time you’ve asked me!”

            Outside the store windows, a powerful gust of wind threw icy pellets of snow against the glass, and the floor trembled. Strobing yellow lights sliced in from the roadway. The snowplow rumbled past, heaving a tall mound of snow against Michelle’s truck where it stood half up on the sidewalk by the rear door.

            On the front desk, the landline rang. Michelle ran for it, while Lucky disconnected from Jake. If only things could be quiet for a moment – Lucky was sure she had enough details now to guess at what was going on.

            But silence wasn’t in the cards, as Michelle’s yelp of dismay set everyone even more on edge, and Lucky moved toward her friend, shoving her own phone back in her pocket and asking urgently, “Now what?” 

Next Chapter: That Sinking Feeling