Authors: Kate Flora
A Thea Kozak Mystery
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Copyright © 2008, 2016 by Kate Flora. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.
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To the next generation, Jake and Max Cohen, Sara and Lisa Clark, Kate and Robbie Lloyd...
May you be strong, brave, wise, and kind.
This story would not have been possible without the generous assistance and support of many people.
For help with managing crises in the private school world, Thea's mentor is always Margaret Milne Moulton.
For help understanding stalking and stalkers, special thanks go to Victim Witness Advocate Heather Putnam and attorney and stalking victim, Laurelyn Douglas, as well as to the Concord area Domestic Violence Victim Assistance Program.
For help with police procedure, Deputy Chief Joseph K. Loughlin of the Portland, Maine police department, my Citizens Police Academy at the Waltham, MA police department, Concord, MA police chief Len Wetherbee, and my never-met but always generous New Hampshire source, Mike Sweeney.
The story was critiqued by my writing group, Hallie Ephron, Linda Barnes, and Sarah Smith. My readers included Diane Woods Englund, Nancy McJennett, Jack Nevison, Brad Lovette, and my late mother, A. Carman Clark.
Special thanks go, always, to my husband, Ken Cohen, who has always believed in my writing.
I have been well, and generously, advised. The errors and the liberties I have taken with fact, process, and law are entirely my own.
I raised the heavy gun, trying not to flinch in anticipation of what was coming, the loud explosion and flash of fire, the ejected shell flying at me, the bone-jolting kick. I steadied it in two hands and tried to line up the site and the target. Andre had called it a bottle target. It didn't look like a bottle. It looked a bowling pin or one of Al Capp's shmoos.
Andre hovered behind me, a big, reassuring bulk. Not quite touching me, but close enough to keep me from running away. If he hadn't been there, I would have set the square, ugly weapon he'd loaded down on the counter, very carefully, and run like a gazelle out of this basement room, darkened with the lead and powder of thousands of explosions, out of the chilly air heavy with the brimstone scent of exploded gunpowder, and into the glorious brightness of a September day.
Andre was right. I had to push myself through this. This was part of my recovery. Last summer, I'd pointed a gun at a fellow human being and pulled the trigger. I hadn't touched a gun since.
He said it was like remounting after falling off a horse, but I'd fallen off horses before. Falling off a horse isn't premeditated. It happens so fast you're on the ground before you know what's hit you and you have to get right back on or you walk home. I've never heard of anyone with recurring nightmares from falling off a horse. Shooting someone, even when it's necessary, is different. You have to bring the gun. Load the gun. Release the safety. Point, aim, squeeze, and watch the other guy fall. When you put the gun down, you never want to see it again.
But I was Thea Kozak, recovering nice girl. Someone who genuinely believed that when the going got tough, the tough got going and that if I backed down, the girls and women coming behind me also lost ground.
Enough, Kozak. Time to get down to it.
I had ear protection. Safety glasses. I had Andre only inches away. His voice was soft. "Relax, Thea. Breathe in. Breathe out. And squeeze." He straightened my body, turning me slightly.
I can do this. I have to do this.
Sensing my determination with that uncanny ability to read body language that some cops have, Andre stepped back.
I breathed in, breathed out, sited down the barrel, and then I wasn't looking at a shmoo. I was watching two men struggling to carry a third across a dark field while a fourth man they couldn't see raised his gun and aimed at them.
"No way," I muttered. "No way."
Always aim for center mass. I steadied my gun. I breathed in, breathed out, slowly increased the pressure on the trigger, and shot the shmoo, eight times, right in its generous little chest. Then I put the gun on the counter and walked out.
Driving home, Andre said, "I know that was hard for you. You were great." He slid one hand off the wheel onto my thigh. "I was thinking of a cheeseburger, but how about a hat trick?"
A hat trick was one of those sports concepts I'd never grasped. All I knew was it was fun. Dash in the front door, shed our clothes, and make love on the soft living room rug. Move to the bedroom for round two. Then once more in the shower. This was my reward for being brave at the shooting range. We'd finished round two and were lying together, his strong thigh against mine, watching the patterns of light on the ceiling, when the phone rang.
"Don't answer it," Andre said. "You're busy."
But it was fall, the most intense part of my working year. I'm a partner in an educational consulting firm, EDGE Consulting, and when the independent schools which are our bread and butter geared up for the fall term, so did we. Weekends were a big time for problems, and problems were my specialty. I grabbed the receiver.
"Sorry. I was in the office when the phone rang. St. Matthews has a problem." My partner, Suzanne. Her voice was light, but I read overtones of seriousness. Like me, and despite a husband and small child, Suzanne was a workaholic. "How'd it go today?" she asked. "Shoot off any toes?"