the screen, “That’s it.”
I read the short message. I’ll be leaving town soon. Nothing to keep me here now. I looked at the date. It was a week before Chris and Daniel’s disappearance. It was in no way actual proof of her involvement but it certainly didn’t exonerate her, either.
“Thanks, kid,” I said, as I gave him the bill.
I ordered a couple of cheeseburgers and a tea from the budget menu and scarfed them down as I drove along the highway. There had to be a cheap motel that would take cash in a town like this. I noticed a rundown looking building around the next curve. The word Vacancy on their sign had lost the letter y on the end.
Eighty dollars was way too much for the smelly room I unlocked but the owner seemed to realize with a sixth sense that I wasn’t in the position to argue. I guessed he catered to a clientele that didn’t want a record of their stay. I laid my jacket over the pillow, unwilling to lay my head on it, otherwise. I placed my father’s pistol on the nightstand and took the safety off. In this motel, I might need to shoot quickly.
I called the phone numbers on a few of the gun listings. On the third try, I finally got a person on the other end.
The man sounded very businesslike but I still wasn’t thrilled with meeting a stranger that could be armed to the teeth. Then how do you expect to confront John Leech? I had no answer to that.
I arranged to meet the man the following morning in a local grocery store parking lot. I read up on the guns he’d had listed until I grew bleary eyed. I was surprised when I woke up the next morning. I couldn’t remember falling asleep and I’d slept undisturbed. Either the dubious occupants of the other rooms had been quiet or I’d been so exhausted I hadn’t noticed.
I took a lukewarm shower that barely trickled, courtesy of the superior motel. I slipped on a wrinkled shirt and another pair of jeans. I looked terrible but at least the clothes were clean. I grabbed the pistol and thumbed the safety back on. I stared at the weapon for a second. I’d shot Dad’s old guns occasionally but I knew next to nothing about firearms other than what I’d studied last night. I gathered up my few belongings and headed back to the McDonalds with my laptop in tow.
I sat at a back table, picking at the breakfast I’d ordered. I couldn’t stop my gut from clenching at the actual thought of encountering John Leech with one of the guns I’d seen on the website.
I ground my back teeth. I’d have to, and I’d have to be sure I was ready to pull the trigger. Even if he had nothing to do with my family’s disappearance, he might not give me the chance to explain without trying to hurt me first.
I stifled the bad thoughts from my mind as I parked the truck in the grocery store lot. The man had said his name was Jim Drake and he’d be driving a late model black Chevy pickup. I spotted a truck like that and noticed a gray haired man was sitting in the driver’s seat. Stickers littered the back of the bumper. PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE-NOT GUNS. PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS. Oddly, the stickers put me at ease. He probably sold guns this way on his beliefs. He might not be a criminal after all.
Even so, I approached his truck cautiously, “Are you Jim Drake?” I asked.
“I am, and you would be Eleanor Lions?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. I’d spent a few hours last night doctoring my driver’s license to subtly change the name. I doubted it would fool a cop but I thought it was good enough to pass an untrained eye.
“Do you mind if I see some I.D.?” he asked.
“Not a problem. Could I see yours, too?” I asked.
We exchanged the cards. His looked real. I wondered if he noticed mine had been altered.
“Good, just a little protection,” he said. “I don’t agree with all the gun laws but I like to know who I’m selling to.”
I smiled as he handed me back my license. It had passed his inspection.
“Why are you looking to buy these?” he asked.
Apparently, his own version of a background check wasn’t over. I looked troubled, “An ex-boyfriend won’t leave me alone. I took out a restraining order but frankly, I’m scared.”
He looked disgusted, “It’s a shame the police can’t protect our women anymore.” He motioned for me to come closer and he pulled a case out that had been sitting on the truck seat.
“Here’s the CZ 75 you asked about,” he said as he opened the case.
I looked at the gun and nodded. I asked a couple of questions and then said, “Would you take $400?”
He grinned, “I was thinking more along the lines of $450?”
I paused as if I was considering. “I’ll take it. Did you bring the rifle?” I rushed in to explain, “I used to shoot them on the farm so I thought I might be more comfortable with it until I learned how to use the handgun.”
He seemed to take the explanation at face value and then stepped out of the truck to show me the rifle. We went through our little dance again and agreed on a price.
He shook my hand before climbing back into his truck, “Practice and learn how to use them. I’d hate to see a pretty girl like you killed by some useless thug like that boyfriend.”
“I will,” I assured him.
I stashed both guns in Chris’ truck and pulled back out onto the main highway. A few more stops to make and then I’d be ready. My heart leapt in my chest at the thought. I doubted I’d ever be ready to face down John Leech.
The small sporting goods store was able to outfit me with a holster, ammunition and a hunting knife. I noticed a sign hanging near the cash register, “Is that shooting range nearby?” I asked.
“Just down the road,” the skinny man behind the counter with thinning gray hair answered. He handed me a business card, “If you mention I sent you, you get a discount.”
I nodded my thanks and took the card. In the truck, I pulled out my new cell phone and dialed my mother’s number.
“Hello, Liz!” my mother exclaimed. “I was starting to worry.”
“I’m fine, Mom. I’ve just been busy.” I noticed she didn’t bother asking what I’d been doing. I think she didn’t want to know. “Have you heard anything from the lab?”
“Not a thing,” she replied. “They told me it could take a couple of weeks.”
I didn’t have that kind of time but I didn’t tell her that. “I’m having some trouble with my phone so don’t get worried if I don’t answer.”
Silence. “Are you sure you’re alright?” my mother asked. She wasn’t buying my made up story about the cell phone.
“I’m perfectly fine,” I said calmly, a lie if ever there was one. “I’ll be in touch as soon as I can.”
“Liz, I wish you’d come back home and talk to the FBI.”
That was the last thing I was going to do. “There’s no need to worry about me,” I assured her.
“Take care of yourself,” she said in response.
She didn’t sound any less worried. “I will,” I replied, ending the call. I could only imagine what she would have said if she had any inkling of what I planned to do.