Saturday, April 29, 2017

"Fire in the Wind" by Judy Bruce

Fire in the Wind
(Wind Series Book 4)
by Judy Bruce

This is the fifth in our special series on author Judy Bruce. Today we feature Fire in the Wind, the fourth book in the Wind Series. The author stops by to share an excerpt from the book. Keep an eye out for my review, coming soon. Also available: Voices in the Wind (read my blog post), Alone in the Wind (read my blog post), and Cries in the Wind (read my blog post).

For another book by this author, please check out my blog post on Death Steppe: A World War II Novel.

The fourth story in the Wind Series finds Megan outraged by a cross burning on her land, and she forms the Night Posse and then strikes back. Meanwhile, she is saddened by the tragic illness of her dear friend, James. After her new boyfriend is killed, she is jailed for his murder. Later she fights to the death in the darkness against an avenger. An undercover cop pursues her. When a dying James attempts to end his life, Megan is forced to act.

Chapter 1
I died once, but only for a minute or so. Still, it should rank with distinction in the category of unusual circumstances. I’ve also killed four men in the last four years, which must be a record for Nebraska attorneys under the age of thirty. But I planned to stay out of trouble—I failed in the past and it cost me dearly. Yet calamity came even faster than I expected.
Starting at dawn on Sunday, a disturbance tormented me—the sense of foreboding in my guts persisted throughout the day and into the evening. After a delicious supper I barely tasted, portent began to pulse through my arteries. So I set out for my “backyard,” as I called it. Five miles of rugged land north of my house stretched before me, pocked with peculiar land forms. I passed over a grassy mound named Rufus located half a football field from the house then weaved through the five small buttes dubbed the Seven Dwarfs, located southwest of a bluff called Big Leo. The second year of the drought kept the soil beneath the gray-green buffalo grass crusty hard. What was bothering me?
A prairie dog popped his head out of his hole, barked at me, and then disappeared. I turned to face the early August wind, waiting for answers, but none came. I didn’t even hear Beverly Wilson, my neighbor whom I had loved like a mother in the absence of my own. Why didn’t I hear her soothing voice? I jogged over to Big Leo and climbed the east slope. Once atop the bluff, I stood by the Fort, the small hut of wood framing and glass windows that my Uncle Bill and others built for me last December.
Then it struck me—the door was unlocked. The inside was void of much besides benches for me and my guests to use in the winter to keep out of the sting of the gusting north wind. I examined the lock, which did show scratches around the keyhole; it was probably an easy lock to pick. This unsecured door could be meaningless, but my roiling guts argued back. So I spent a half hour searching for answers. Using the binoculars I stored under one of the seats, I first scanned the Beast, a larger bluff to the north; Pooper’s Canyon, a dry ditch near the Wilson property to the west; Raccoon Creek, a shallow stream marked by cottonwoods that cut through dry earth to the west; and finally Miss Gulch, a deep, dry gully to the northwest. I loved this scraggily wasteland, replete with cherished memories of my childhood with Derek and Vonny Wilson. Yet it was also a place that haunted me from my earliest days here as a toddler, with eerie voices in the wind that tortured me with longing. It worried me that a new, disturbing event might scar my land.
Back home, my mother, Elizabeth, known as Beth to most, but Mom only to me, asked, “Trouble?” I nodded. Uncle Bill dropped his head into his chest and my Lakota housekeeper, Patty, murmured and rubbed her temples.
“God above,” said my mom.
I called State Patrol Officer Warren Merritt on his cell phone. We’d been though several “incidents” together. When I told him something was wrong, he knew to respond with alarm. “What do you think it is?” Merritt asked.
“I don’t know, but I think it’s here at my house or probably out to the north.”
“Lordy, Megan, you’ve been through enough. I’m off today, but I’ll get a cruiser and take a drive around the area. Promise me you’ll stay inside.”
“And call your uncle.” “Oh, Bill is standing right here. He knows I’m agitated.”
“Okay, I’ll be in touch.”
I set my phone on the kitchen counter as I felt the stares of my uncle, my mom, Patty, and my war vet boyfriend, Zane. All I could say was, “Something…I don’t know what…but something.” That failed to mollify them. Uncle Bill began scratching his late day whiskers with both hands. Patty, here on her day off, left and returned with four flashlights. Mom and Zane just stared at me, waiting.
I turned from their gazes to call Bo Schnitzel, the Dexter deputy on duty. He promised to check the Cowpoke, the Dexter tavern, Custer’s diner, and Spittle’s, formerly the Pizza Shoppe, to find out who was in town and who might be looking for trouble. My next door neighbor James Wilson knew me even better than Merritt or Bo—he brought his shotgun.
In time, we settled in the family room and turned on the Sunday night baseball game as twilight deepened into darkness. Suddenly, Barnaby and Traddles, James and Bill’s dogs, began barking. With the family room curtains open, we saw it as soon as it started.
I jumped up from the sofa. “What the hell?”
Mom called the police while Bill dialed his cowhands and friends. Zane and I rushed out to the patio.
“My God! I don’t believe this!” he said.
I dashed back into the house and took James by the shoulders. “James, I need you to stay here, no matter what. Please. Guard my house. Barnaby will guard yours.” Benumbed, he just stared at me. Then to Patty I said, “Tackle him if he leaves.”
After retrieving my Glock from the study, I grabbed two flashlights. Out on the patio, I handed one to Zane. Under the rear porch light, Bill was hooking up the back yard hose. The horror of the scene atop Rufus caught my breath.
God Almighty! A burning cross.
“Zane, go to the right!” I yelled as I headed to the west side of the knoll.
America’s most heinous symbol of hatred rose thirty feet into the night sky, its fiery malevolence befouling my house and land with its light. It made my stomach turn over. I looked for Zane as I approached the side of the mound. I didn’t see him at first then I spotted him, still back where I left him. Damn! This was a lousy time for his shell-shock to kick in.
I sprinted around the side of Rufus then swept a beam of light to the west and north. Lights flashed and sirens blared on the highway. As I ran forward, I shone the light to the east. I worked my way through the Seven Dwarfs, never seeing a soul. As the sting of smoke hit my nostrils, I recognized the smell of hatred. Shit. I really wanted to shoot the bastards who did this; yet I was angry that I felt the need to carry the gun that I wanted to leave locked away in storage.
By the time I worked my way back to Rufus, a huge blast of water was dousing the fire and sending smoke into the night sky. Someone caught me in a flashlight beam and ran toward me from the house.
“Megan, it’s Warren Merritt. If you’ve got your hand on your gun, please put it away.”
“No, you’re safe,” I said.
“Have you seen anyone?”
“No, and I got out here right away. They cleared out damn fast and I never heard a truck or car.”
“All right, then. Walk back with me. Maybe we can avoid getting water-hosed.”
When we returned to my backyard, it was filled with State Patrol, firemen, reporters from Sidney and Kimball, and curious locals. I didn’t stop to talk to anyone, but headed toward the house. I hated publicity and reporters in general. I never talked to them, no matter who I’d shot.
When I met my mom on the patio, she handed Merritt my camera. “You’ll want this,” she said. “I think I got some good shots before the fire department started soaking the damn thing.”
“Good thinking, Mom. And you cussed. I think that’s a first.”
“Well, I’m mad. You might hear more.”
Just then we heard creaking wood and the sounds of the beams crashing into a heap. A blast of smoke shot into the night, shrouding the stars as embers flew in all directions. Shots of water covered the grassy hill, making sure the fire didn’t spread.
“How’s James?” I asked.
“Speechless. He’s with Patty and Kayla. I gave him a large brandy.”
“Will you go get Zane? He’s still frozen to that spot.” Mom nodded and walked out into the yard.
“PTSD?” asked Merritt.
“Yeah. His last tour was a rough one. Let’s go over here.”
I led him to the side of the house. I wanted to get out of Zane’s way, for he wouldn’t want to see me just yet. He’d gone numb and I had acted—men don’t handle that well. “Did you see anything this afternoon?” Merritt asked.
“Well, the door to the Fort on Big Leo was unlocked, though it could’ve been that way awhile…but I don’t really think so. I bet they used it to scout the area or James. I wish now that I’d stayed out there.”
“If they were set on doing it, they’d wait.”
I nodded. Jack and Bud, Bill’s cowhands, stood a few yards off to the side, as if they were waiting for instructions; Bill must have called them. I led Merritt over to them. The men had become acquainted after the Shootout in the Eldritch barn.
“Thanks, guys, for showing up,” I said.
“Now promise me you won’t go out there. They might just be waiting to ambush somebody…though I’d appreciate it if you checked on the horses.”
“Sure thing,” said Jack. “This just makes me sick. Now everybody’s gonna think that Nebraska has the KKK.”
“Lordy,” murmured Bud.
“We’ll do a search in the morning,” said Merritt. “Nobody but you, Megan, knows this land well enough to run around in the dark.”
“Well, I have done that a few times, but not since I broke an ankle. Will you excuse me? Goodnight, guys.”
As Bud and Jack left and Merritt walked over to another trooper, I headed over to a cowboy I didn’t recognize.
“Did Foxworthy send you?” I asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” said the tall, broad-shouldered silhouette of a cowhand as he tipped his hat. “Tony.”
“Okay, Tony, better tell Robert Foxworthy. He takes a special interest in this area. I wonder if there’s been other cross burnings.”
“Well, he certainly wants to know what you’re up to. Does anyone else know about me?”
“No. I think that’s best.”
“Any ideas on who might do something like this?” he asked.
“Not a clue. We have plenty of rednecks out here, but this takes racism to a whole different level.”
I entered the phone number of the undercover FBI agent into my phone’s contacts list. As he disappeared into the shadow of the house, I headed inside where I learned Zane walked James home. He would make sure the house was secure before he left James alone. Mom and Bill seemed hesitant to leave me, so I told them I was exhausted and wanted to crash land on my bed.
Yet after they left, I stayed in the kitchen wondering of Zane would come back. He didn’t, which failed to surprise me. He would think he’d embarrassed himself tonight. He probably had some terrible memory of a fire or an explosion in the night on one of his missions in Iraq or Afghanistan. I now had my own terrible memory of a fire in the night. However, my shock couldn’t match the torment for James, an African American.
I awoke in a sweat at five, tumbling out of bed and stumbling toward the window. Rufus was surrounded by yellow tape. What was wrong now? I quickly dressed even as panic made my heart race. But for what? I was ready to dash out the back door, but I stopped myself. Think, feel, breathe. I stood still as I tried to empty my mind.
After a few moments, I knew. I grabbed two keys and a scrap of paper from behind the cereal bowls, shoved my cell phone into my back pocket and rushed out the front door. On James’ front porch, I rang the doorbell then knocked. Nothing. After I knocked again, I unlocked the door and the dead bolt with the keys I brought then punched in the security code listed on the paper. I called out to James, but heard only a rustling sound from down the hall. I sprinted to the kitchen.
James lay face down on the floor

About the Author
Judy Bruce is a novelist and screenwriter. In addition to her acclaimed novel, Death Steppe: A World War II Novel, four stories have been published from her Wind Series: Voices in the Wind, Alone in the Wind, Cries in the Wind, and Fire in the Wind. Judy maintains a website and a blog. She is a wife, mother, and sister residing in Omaha, Nebraska, and a Creighton University law school graduate. Her autistic son keeps her in touch with her quirky side.