Authors: Richard; Forrest
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The Wizard of Death
A Lyon and Bea Wentworth Mystery
In memory of
David R. Storey
Gerbils and gophers â¦ Yes,
The Gopher on the Green
A political rally had replaced long-ago musters of militia on the town green as Lyon Wentworth sat on a warm car fender and wondered if
The Gopher on the Green
would be a workable title for his next children's book. He let his mind wander and paid scant attention to the speaker's platform near the Civil War monument.
He frowned as a red balloon began a rapid ascent toward the clear July sky.
He pushed himself off the fender and took three steps to reach its trailing string before realizing it was too late. It was at treetop level when its three-year-old owner discovered her loss. A small cry of anguish merged into the drone from the platform.
He knelt on one knee beside the small girl, and together they watched the helium-filled balloon disappear over the church steeple.
“It's gone where happy balloons go,” he said.
“To Emerald City to stay with the Wizard of Oz, of course.”
“Oh.” She looked at him with wide brown eyes until a tentative smile emerged. She looked up for the last time at the departed balloon, waved, and ran across the grass toward her mother.
Lyon turned to look beyond the rows of people sitting on blankets and folding chairs before the temporary platform to see that his wife was now speaking from the podium.
Bea Wentworth, her figure trim and well proportioned, spoke with an energy that seemed to possess her slight body. Occasionally, as if to emphasize a point, her hand would ruffle the edge of her closely cropped hair.
“â¦ a fine lawyer, a dedicated family man, the next nominee of our party and the next governor of our state, Randolph Llewyn!”
As she concluded, her voice rose and reverberated from the several amplifiers placed around the Murphysville Town Green. Bea turned quickly from the podium as the angular man seated at her side rose and shook hands.
Randolph Llewyn raised both arms over his head in acknowledgment of the rising applauseâand fell dead as a rifle cracked twice.
A gasp issued from the crowd. At the corner of the green Lyon instinctively crouched by a car fender. On the speaker's platform the frozen tableau began to react in short, jerky motions. Bea knelt next to the fallen candidate, while the others flung themselves behind the scant protection of folding chairs. Rocco Herbert, the town's chief of police, was on one knee in front of the platform, his left hand steadying the right as he aimed a Magnum revolver.
The large police officer spaced carefully aimed shots at two-second intervals. The thunder of the powerful handgun was picked up by the stage microphone and echoed across the confused green.
Lyon visually followed the chief's 60-degree angle of aim and saw wood splintering around the edges of a small belfry window two-thirds of the way up the church steeple.
Two more and the gun would be empty.
Lyon sprinted toward the nearby squad car and fumbled over the visor for the ignition keys he knew the chief kept there. He had the car moving as Rocco Herbert loped across the grass toward him. Reaching across the seat, Lyon opened the far car door and Rocco flung himself inside. The car accelerated as the chief spilled spent shells over his lap and frantically began to reload the weapon.
“Back of the goddamned church!” Rocco yelled.
Lyon careened the car across the lawn of Amsten House (built 1732) next to the Congregational Church, jumped the curb of the church drive and skidded into the parking lot. Thirty yards away a trail bike, its marker plate obscured by mud, was weaving back and forth between the ancient gravestones of the colonial cemetery at the rear of the church.
“The lane!” Rocco yelled.
“To the right, damn it!”
Lyon swerved the wheel, throwing the car into a skidding turn inches from the cemetery's wrought-iron fence, and turned toward the right, where a small lane ran along the sides of the graves. The motorcyclist had to weave around the headstones, which allowed the car to close the gap. The two vehicles were almost parallel when the trail bike took a tangent toward an open iron gate and sped through onto the rear meadow.
A barbed-wire fence blocked the end of the lane, and Lyon took his foot off the accelerator and frantically braked the rocking car. Rocco's size 14-D shoe knocked Lyon's foot off the brake and then slammed down on the gas. The car jumped ahead and smashed through the fence. A twanging piece of wire snapped through the open window and tore a small gash along Lyon's arm as Rocco leaned out the other window and tried to aim the revolver as the car jounced over the pasture.
As they raced along the incline of the meadow, a few cud-chewing cows looked at the two speeding vehicles with complete uninterest. Small scrub pines snapped against the car as it labored along the path of the trail bike. The angle of the hill increased; glacial boulders strewn over the path before them narrowed possible clearance for the car.
Rocco fired a wild shot from the swaying vehicle and then yelled at Lyon, “The boulders ahead, we'll neverâ”
The car attempted passage between two large rock formations; metal tore, and strange grinding noises came from the undercarriage as Lyon tried to brake to a halt. The car stopped with a jolt that threw both men against the dashboard.
“âmake it,” Rocco said tiredly as he held a handkerchief against his bleeding nose. Both men were quiet as the whine of the trail bike retreated into the distance.
“I'd like to see about my wife,” Lyon said as Rocco reached for the radio transmitter and began to give curt instructions.
Lyon Wentworth stood in the bedroom doorway with two thimbles of slightly warmed Dry Sack sherry. The small figure curled in a ball on the large bed with a sheet pulled tight at the neck seemed childlike, a person bundling away from the monsters of life.
He put the sherry on the night table and sat on the edge of the bed and gently caressed her head. Bea snuffled and pressed her nose deeper into the pillow. We're all so basically vulnerable, Lyon thought. He knew his wife had a legion of male and female admirers throughout the state. State Senator Beatrice Wentworth, a feisty member of the legislature who strode through the Victorian halls of the state capitol intent on jousting with her myriad foes â¦ attack when necessary and fear not. At times she had joined battle with governors and congressmen and recently had decimated a presidential cabinet member on a local interview show â¦ now she lay curled in the fetal position.
He bent over and kissed the nape of her neck. He wanted to lie next to her and fold her in his arms, but the secret warning bell formed over years of marriage told him that he should wait.
Bea gave a deep moan, turned over and abruptly sat up. Tears crossed her cheeks.
“GOD DAMN IT, WENTWORTH! WHY DO THEY ALWAYS KILL THE GOOD GUYS?”
He held her against his shoulder. “I don't know,” he whispered.
She wiped her eyes with the edge of the sheet and bolted from the bed. Her small fists came down with a thud on the dresser top. “IT'S GOT TO STOP!”
Lyon picked up the minute hearing aid from the night table, flipped it on and inserted it in her ear. He handed her the sherry, which she drained in one gulp. “It's probably a nut; political assassins usually are.”
“He was a good man, Lyon. A fine legislator, an honest man who could have done a hell of a lot for this state. Maybe more, he would have eventually gone on â¦ I don't know how far he might have gone, and all of it would have been good.”
“Would you like me to have the doctor give you a sedative?”
“I don't want a pill. I'm too mad for a sedative!”
“There's nothing you can do about it, Bea.”
“Like hell there isn't!”
He saw in her eyes that tears had been replaced by an angry glint. “What do you have in mind?” Lyon asked softly.
“Guns, damn it!”
“It's hardly your style to take to the streets.”
“Not that. I'm going to see that they're taken away from the idiots.”
“That doesn't sound like Bea Wentworth, champion of civil liberties.”
“Free speech isn't the right for any idiot to carry a lethal weapon. Anyone able to stumble into a sporting-goods store can buy almost any type of rifle he wants.”
“Some people hunt.”
“Rifles aren't legal to hunt with in this stateâonly shotguns. He fired from the church steeple, didn't he?”
“Yes. We found him in back of the church where we chased him.”
“That's what?âmaybe two hundred yards from the speaker's platform.”