Death on the Range: Target Practice Mysteries 1 (2 page)

BOOK: Death on the Range: Target Practice Mysteries 1
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I felt like I had missed something in her explanation. “Why does a shooting range have a lumberjack?”

“Oh, that is just a nickname he has gone by for years. That’s all people call him anymore.” Jess pulled her briefcase on her lap.

The absurdity of the situation fit my mood. “Of course, that totally makes sense. A dog who has a special in with the Westmounds and is owned by someone that goes by the name of Lumberjack. Why didn’t I guess that on my own?”

Jess made noncommittal noises while digging through her briefcase. I opened my mouth to start again, but she cut me off.

“I need to head out in a few minutes, let me get give you a few tasks to start with.” Jess slid a piece of paper from her briefcase over the desk to me.

I had barely glanced at the page before she started rattling off a list of projects she wanted to work on with me. She discussed blogs, instructional videos, and camps then kept going. She seemed to hop from topic to topic with no discernable logic. Jumping into action, I searched through the drawers of my desk, looking for a pen and paper, but all I found was a collection of junk in otherwise empty drawers: a dusty dog toy, fletching glue for arrows, a bag of spare nocks for the backs of arrows, an Allen wrench set, and a tissue with chewed gum that I threw in the trash can. She showed no signs of waiting, so I started digging through my purse.

The tight, high-pitched, intense tone of her voice transported me a decade back to college. Every semester, during finals, we would go through this same thing. Everyone has anxiety at those times, but she took it to a whole new level. She would start winding herself up, and before I knew it she would be in the midst of a full-blown panic attack.

I saw the telltale signs: wide eyes with way too much white showing all the way around the iris, and her knuckles white on the handle of her briefcase.

I waved my hand while I leaned over the desk to get her attention. “Hey, whoa, hey now.”

Jess looked at me, and the panic eased from her eyes. The color slowly returned to her face. She took a couple of slow, deep breaths. She was definitely in better control of her anxiety than she was in college.

Jess gave me a tight smile, a line of lips pressed tight, then put her purse on the ground. She took a deep breath then mumbled, “Sorry about that,” under her breath.

I pushed back my shoulders, smiled, and focused on radiating confident energy. “How about you write down everything you think of, and once I’m settled in, then we can put together a plan for tackling these things. I’m not going anywhere.” It was a skill I had perfected when I worked with clients.

The last bits of tension drained from Jess’s face, and she sat back in the chair with an almost silent chuckle. “I really want to prove myself here. I know that everyone thinks I only got the job because Robbie was hired to run the entire center, but I know I deserve it. I’ve worked so hard and want to prove that I’m as qualified as anyone.” Her voice was getting louder and higher as she talked. She was ramping up again, but this time with an eager energy. Her tone was balanced between thrilled and scared. She wildly gestured with her hands to emphasize her points. Robbie was her husband and a world-class rifle shooter.

Staffing had been a challenge since everyone had to move to Wyoming for the job. Part of the pay was in the form of onsite housing and food, making it an additional complication. Jess was more than qualified for the job; she had graduate degrees, coaching certifications, and any number of successful students. “You’ll be great.” My words sloughed right off on her as she continued to fidget with her papers. There seemed to be more to the story than I was hearing. “Did something happen between when we talked a few days ago and now? You didn’t seem this… stressed then.”

She slumped in her seat while rubbing her forehead. “We got the state grant to start a community wellness program, and several oil companies are interested in sponsoring our elite athlete training programs. We just got the news this morning at the meetings.”

Struggling to see how that was bad news, I scrunched up my lips before replying. “That sounds like a good thing, right?”

“Yes, of course, that’s part of the reason the center was put in Wyoming. The state and community is thrilled to have us here and is really supportive. It is just… well…… everything I dreamed of all these years. All the programs I have planned. I get to do them, and what if I can’t? If they don’t?”

“That’s your worry? You have money and get to do all the programs you dreamed about?” I chuckled. “Call the news, rally the troops. There’s a catastrophe going on—we have too much money.”

Jess snorted from behind her arm, so I continued, “I’m not going to play the Divorce Card very often, but when you called me last month about this job, I was all, ‘Wah wah, it’s too much work, and I can’t possibly move, get a new job, and get divorced at the same time.’ And do you remember what you said?”

Jess mumbled from behind her arm, so I leaned over the desk, lifted her arm off her face briefly, then raised my voice. “I can’t hear you.”

She threw her arm off her face to reveal a smirk. “I said that you were awesome, strong, blah blah blah and could do anything. I’d be here to help.”

“Yes, that blah blah blah got me through some hard times. If I can pick up my crumbling life mid-divorce, then you can manage your ‘too much money and opportunities’ problem.”

“Have you been talking to someone?”

I knew she was asking about the divorce. “No, I decided to handle it differently. I’m going to ignore it and pretend it isn’t happening. That’s why I’m paying a lawyer; it’s her job to worry about things.”

A tiny frown formed on Jess’s face as she softened her voice. “Oh, Di, I really think—”

“I’m a WASP; it’s the way of my people to bottle things up.” Jess stared at me while I fought against the urge to fill the air with explanations. The moment stretched out painfully until I felt like it would snap back at me. I attempted to break the moment by changing topics. “What the heck am I supposed to do here?”

Jess straightened in her seat with a startled exclamation. “I almost forgot. Next Monday you will join the department head meeting. Everyone is excited to meet you. They are off putting together projects to use you. That’s why I had to rush over and remind you of your allegiance to me.”

She gave me a dramatic wink before continuing.

“Here is your basic meeting schedule. The first is with the outside tech company we are using; they should be able to get you whatever it is you need. The rest of the meetings are with various center employees so they can let you know what their department needs. You are going to have a lot of down time, so feel free to spend the rest moving into employee housing, buying what you need, and if there is any time left over, you can start learning about the sports represented here. The bottom of the schedule has a half dozen links. That will keep you busy until we start coach training at the end of the week.”

I looked at the sheet. Everything seemed pretty clear cut.

Jess started to rise, but I had one more question. “What about Moo?”

At the mention of his name, he looked up at me and yawned. His mouth was wide enough to eat a whole loaf of bread in one bite, and his tongue flopped out. I patted my thigh, and he crawled out of the chair and walked over to me. He stood next to my chair and abruptly shifted all of his weight to my side, causing the chair to slam into the desk. I braced my feet on the ground and gave his rump a good scratch. “Do I need to let him out or anything?”

Jess looked at the now vacated chair with its drool spots and copious dog hair and lifted her upper lip in disgust. “Nah, just don’t lock him in here, and he’ll be fine. He has a doggy door to an enclosed run on the far side of the building. He’s our easiest employee.”

She gave me one last hug and left me to get settled into my first new job in eight years.

CHAPTER TWO

The week flew by as I settled into a new pattern and life. Mary had been thrilled to escort me to the nearest mall to pick up athletic clothes that met the dress code of the center and Wyoming winter jackets and shoes. A quick trip to the pet store while in town had ended in a dog bed, snacks, a water bowl, and a few toys. Moo didn’t belong to me, but he seemed to think it was his duty to spread dog hair over every inch of my office. The chair he had claimed as his own was discolored from his drool and starting to creak when he crawled into it. I encouraged him to stay off it before it collapsed and instead use his new dog bed (in the shape of a heart, because it came with an adorable doggie toy and matching blanket for only three dollars more). More often than not he sprawled across the bed with most of his body off the bed or all four feet in the air as he squirmed across the surface. I still hadn’t met his owner but I had come to think of Moo as mine—a warm, calming creature to share my work-day with. He felt like an ally while I met the various department heads.

I kept the center’s personnel webpage open throughout the meetings so I could start to learn the staff’s names. I had met almost everyone there except for the most interesting one, Liam Andersson. Unlike the rest of the pictures, which consisted of headshots with a professional blue background, Liam’s was an outside shot of him firing a gun. He leaned forward toward the target, a cloud of dust around his body while he squinted into the sun. His hair was clipped short on the side but longer on top, and he had a full beard. He looked like something out of a video game, or a Viking brought back to life.

His job description said “Equipment,” which didn’t make much sense as a job description. I hadn’t spotted him in the halls or cafeteria, but I had mixed feelings about meeting him. The mystery of a hypothetical man was enticing since I was in no place to deal with a real man, at least not romantically.

Mary ran into my office, wiped a layer of dog hair off the plastic seat, collapsed into the chair, then pulled it to my desk. “Oh my goodness, I have so much to tell you.”

I didn’t bother to hide my smile as I swiveled to turn to her. Last night she drove to Denver to pick up the Summer Games athletes who were arriving for the coaching course that started in twenty minutes. I went to sleep before she returned, and when I left this morning Mary was still sleeping.

“So much drama about the new coaches’ course. The four Summer Games archers that flew in are not happy about being here, and there is all this tension between them. The drive back was so weird.”

Mary loved to gossip, and I didn’t complain. Whenever she wanted to ask about my life, a topic I did not want to discuss, I could distract her by asking about other people. “Tell me.” I knew she didn’t need much encouragement, and I was right, as she launched into her story.

“I picked the four of them up at the airport, and the girls, Minx, Owley, and Honey, are all sitting at least fifteen feet apart.”

“Their names are ridiculous; at least Allie is a normal name.”

“Not Allie. Owley, like an owl? Anyways, we get the luggage into the van, and Tiger hops into the first bench seat, and Minx crawls in next to him. Owley says she needs to sit there because she gets car sick, but Honey suggests that if Owley gets car sick, she should sit up front with me, not next to Tiger. They all just stand there snipping at each other about where everyone was going to sit. A cop had to come over and yell at us to move. Minx yelled at Owley and Honey to stop acting like babies and crawled into the front seat next to me. Owley got in next to Tiger, and Honey went into the row behind them.”

I sucked air in through my teeth, surprised. This could make for a more exciting coaches’ course. Drama can be fun to watch when you aren’t part of it. “Yikes, are they always like that?”

“I have no idea.” Mary burst into a huge smile. “I’ve never spent much time around them in private, just at tournaments. I had no idea they fought like this when they were alone.”

Mary lightly bounced in her seat. She reminded me of the saying, if you don’t have anything nice to say, then come sit by me. We had started to bond over our shared love of mocking reality stars on TV.

“Were there just the”—I stopped to count in my head—“four of them? Didn’t we send six archers to the Summer Games?”

“Yes, only four of the six archers came to coach’s training, and they were not happy about it. Minx complained it was stupid that after attending the Summer Games she had to come to a class to learn how to teach archery.” Mary broke into a falsetto voice. “I can represent my country at the biggest archery event in the world, but I have to take a class to teach archery. What a bunch of horse… um, crap.”

“Horse crap? Such harsh language! What did everyone else say?” I couldn’t help teasing Mary about her obviously edited version of the story. Mary’s sweet nature, all gossiping aside, had become evident over the past week.

Mary put her fists on her side and huffed at me. “You know what I meant. Owley just shrugged, but she doesn’t say much ever. Honey said she was happy to attend the first course on the new coaching curriculum—or was it that she would be glad to be one of the first coaches of the new system? I can’t remember what she said. It was all about Honey, Honey, Honey. I think she even used the phrase ‘Master Plan.’ Can you believe it?”

I giggled. “Master plan? What is she, an evil villain?”

Mary looked at me with big, round eyes and got up. “Yes, she is.”

I turned to Moo, who was lying on his back with his dog bed on top of him. He was chewing on a corner while scratching at it with his front paws. “Hey Moo, do you wanna go with me?” I got no further than “wanna” before he leaped up and pranced, his front paws dancing back and forth. He reacts that way to every question that starts with “Do you wanna,” but still it made me feel like we were a team when he bounded into action.

BOOK: Death on the Range: Target Practice Mysteries 1
5.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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