May passed uneventfully, for which Otto was grateful. Tom reported that no one in the Bureau knew where Victor was, which could be both bad and good. Mata, Polly and Abigail enjoyed setting the bookstore up and preparing for customers. They opened on June first and were overwhelmed with the response to both parts of the operation. The twins helped out, as did Betty, Frances and Marion. Otto visited a couple days after the opening. “Looks like a family operation,” he observed.
“You got that right,” Mata answered. “Now stop standing there gawking and do something! And I know, you ‘hear and obey.’”
Otto grinned. “You took the words right out of my mouth.”
“Someone has to. Might as well be me.”
The store had been open for about two hours when Tom came in, looking serious. He found Otto. “What’s wrong?” Otto asked.
“I need to talk to you. Outside.”They went out into the bright clear day and stood on the sidewalk. Tom got right to the point. “It’s happened again.”
“What’s happened again?”
“Someone’s been shot at.”
“Oh, no! Who was it?”
“Luis’ cousin, Raphael Gomez.”
“He’s one of our pitchers.”Tom nodded.“Yes, I know.”
“Raphael went to Minneapolis to visit relatives. While he was stopped at a light, some guy pulled up in a dark Chevy and fired a shot into the car. Fortunately, it missed.”
“Oh, wow. Any idea who it was?”
“He couldn’t identify the individual, but I believe I know who it is.”
“Mr. Victor Benson.”
“None other, I suppose.”
“I’d bet on it.”
“So why do you think he took a shot at Raphael?”
“Revenge. Frustration. Cowardice. I could go on.”Otto looked up the street where people bustled about doing errands. Such a peaceful scene, he thought. Who would expect to find what lies beneath the surface of our lives? “So what are you going to do?”
“That’s easy. Same thing as last time your family was threatened. We’ll have someone with Raphael twenty-four hours a day and the same protection for all of you.”
“Good. We grew very fond of them. Is that all?”
“Isn’t that enough?”
“I’d say so. Let’s go in and tell the others.”
A couple of days later, they had all settled into what Mata called “our new reality.” The twins and little Otto (they continued to call him that although he was approaching six feet) were delighted to have the agents with them, and Mata and Betty put them to work. The feds weren’t supposed to do that, but no one said anything. The morning was calm and bright when Abigail burst into the store, nearly hysterical. “Abigail! What’s wrong! Sit down! Do you want a glass of water?” Mata headed for the bar.
The young woman collapsed into a chair, nodding since she could not speak for lack of breath. After she took a few sips from her glass, she choked out, “I saw him.”“Saw who?”
“Victor. He’s in town. I saw him driving up North Main, headed away from us.”
“What was he doing?”
“Looking for me! Oh, don’t let him do anything to me!”
“Where were your escorts?”
“They were in a car right behind me. But I had no way of telling them until I could pull over. They took off up North Main. We’ll have to wait to see what happened.”
Just then the door opened and the agents walked in, guns drawn. “Clear,” one of them said. They holstered their .38s and walked over to the two women. “Sorry,” the taller one said, “We lost him.”
Abigail’s face fell. “Thanks for trying. I know you’ll catch up to him sooner or later.”
“Yes, m’am. Now, would you ladies mind if we had breakfast next door? We haven’t had a chance to eat and, well, we’re hungry.” He sounded like someone out on Dragnet.
“Sure. Go ahead.” Mata felt some uncertainty about their leaving but knew they had to eat.
“We’ll be close. Don’t hesitate to call.”
“Oh, you’ll hear my screams if something happens.” Mata smiled tightly.
“I hope that won’t happen.” With that, the two men put on their hats and walked out the door.
“What do we do now?” Abigail was still trembling.Mata went into her office with Abigail trailing behind. “We call Otto and Tom.” She lifted the receiver and dialed the first number.
An hour later, Tom and Otto sat at one of the tables having coffee. They offered to pay, but Mata offered to dump an urn of coffee on their heads if they tried. The men acquiesced and decided to stay and sample the wares. Mata has always made good coffee, Otto thought, and this would be no exception. I’m glad more people can enjoy it.
Mata and Abigail came over and joined them. “What’s going on?”
“Not much so far. Tom notified his office and they’re sending out more manpower. The warden at the pen is going to have his people put pressure on Benson to see what he knows. Tom usually carries his gun, and I’m going to do that as well. We’ll do our best to protect everyone.”
“That’s a relief.”
“I hoped it would be.”
“Be careful with those guns.”
“Yes, m’am.”The phone rang and Mata jumped to answer it. “Yes, this is she. What? Where? OK, I see. Thank you.” She put the phone down wearily and came back to the table, tears starting in her eyes. She sat down.
“I can’t believe it. That son of a biscuit shot Raphael.”
“How badly is he hurt?”
“It’s the worst. He’s dead.” With this, she sobbed and put her head down on the table. Abigail went over and put her arm around Mata, tears running down their cheeks. Otto and Tom sat there, trying to think of something to say. Nothing occurred to either man, so they didn’t move. Mata raised her head. “What are you going to do? Don’t just sit there! Do something! Anything! Now!”The fury of her words made them rise from the table.
“Sit tight. We’ll get your agents to come back. Don’t go anywhere. We’ll keep in touch by phone. Don’t move until you hear from us. Do you understand?”
Mata nodded, her cheeks still wet with tears. With that, Tom and Otto slipped out of the store.
Otto and Tom drove out to the airport where Raphael had been killed. They pulled up to the hangar to find Charlie Draper hard at work investigating the crime scene. He had called in some investigators from Minneapolis who weren’t there yet, but would be in a couple of hours. Otto and Tom joined Charlie and they worked busily, going over every inch of the taxiway for clues. Otto saw blood stains at the spot Raphael must have been shot. Well, I’ll just get in the way here, he thought, so he went to the office and called home. “Betty! Are you all right?”
“Yes! We have our agents here. One of them went to school and picked the girls up. We’re here together. Where are you?”
“I’m at the office. I’ll be home as soon as possible.”
“All right. Be careful.”
“I will. I love you.”
“And I love you, too.”
Otto hung up the phone and turned to some paperwork that had to be completed that day. Just then he heard shots from the direction of the dorm. He grabbed his Colt and ran over. Tom was crouched behind his car, popping up occasionally to exchange fire with someone in the building. Otto skidded to a halt behind the car. “Who is it?” Otto exclaimed.“It’s Victor,” Tom said grimly. “And he got Charlie with his first shot. He’s over there beside the squad car.”
“I’ll go get him.”
“Don’t, Otto. I’ve called for reinforcements. Let the experts handle this one.”
“I can’t leave him out there, Tom. I had some infantry training. I know what to do.”
“That was nearly twenty years ago. As agent in charge, I’m ordering you to stay here.”
“As a major in the United States Air Force Reserve, I outrank you. I’m going.”
“Do I have to shoot you to make you stop?”
“You keep threatening to do that, and one day you probably will. But not today. Cover me.”
“Well, all right, but if you get killed, I’ll never speak to you again.”
“I’ll count on it. On three—one, two—”
“What is it?”
“Be careful. You’re the best brother-in-law I could ever hope for.”
“I’m your only brother-in-law. The same to you. Now let’s do it!”Otto slid his way alongside the car. Charlie was about twenty yards away.
“On three,” Otto called. “Three—two—one!” He burst from cover. I must look like a flushed pheasant, he thought. Tom stood, braced his elbows on the squad car’s roof, and poured round after round into the dorm. Bullets kicked up asphalt chips as Otto dodged and wove his way to where Charlie lay. He was still breathing, even though Victor had shot him in the stomach, and a pool of blood spread out from beneath his body. Otto was glad that he was unconscious since moving him would be painful.He reached Charlie, grabbed him by his arms, and flung him on his back, just as they had taught them during basic. He didn’t even feel Charlie’s weight, and when he tried later to lift a sack weighing about the same as the sheriff, he couldn’t budge it. Such were the effects of adrenalin, he thought.He ran crouched over, dodging as best he could with the weight.
“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon!” Tom yelled as he continued to shoot into the building. As Otto neared the car, he felt a sting in his upper arm, but it seemed no worse than a bee sting. He had been grazed, but that didn’t matter to him as he reached safety and gently laid Charlie on the tarmac. “First aid kit in the car under the dash! Get this bleeding stopped and I’ll keep firing.”
Tom jumped for the door, and Otto turned his attention to the dorm window where the shots seemed to come from. After a few rounds from both of them, Otto noticed that Victor was moving around. After a brief silence, gunfire started up from an adjacent room. He’s got to be getting low on ammo, Otto thought. I hope reinforcements get here soon. I’m running out myself. Then he remember the squad car carried extra. They were set.Tom slid up beside him. “Got the bleeding stopped, but he needs to get to the hospital pronto. I called it in, and they’re on their way.”
“I hope this will be over soon. I can fly him to the hospital in Eau Claire. They’re better equipped to handle that kind of wound. Charlie’s going to need extensive surgery.”Just then the firing from Victor stopped.
“Wonder what happened.” Otto tried to see inside, but to no avail.“Probably ran out of ammo. Let’s try talking to him. Hey! Victor! Come out with your hands up! We know you’re out of bullets, so give up before someone else gets hurt!”
After a moment’s silence, a hoarse voiced called out, “Never, you sorry excuse for an agent! Come in and get me!”
Tom and Otto dropped beside the car. They could be wrong about the ammo, so it didn’t hurt to be careful. “What do you think?” Otto wanted to know.
“I think we need to wait for the troops. They should be here shortly.”
“Good plan.” They sat with their backs to the car, Otto noticing for the first time what a pleasant spring day it was. A good day to keep on living, he thought. He allowed himself to enjoy the soft breeze and clear skies for a moment when one of the front windows blew out of the dorm.“What the—” Tom started up and then quickly dropped down.
Otto peered across the hood of the car. “He’s set a fire. One of us needs to go around back so he doesn’t try to escape that way. I’ll do it.”
“I’ll cover you until you get around the building. Fire a single shot into the air so I’ll know you’ve gotten there.”
“OK. Here we go again. And—I’m off!”Otto dashed the fifty yards or so to the log building, crouching below the windows. He felt the heat of the flames and heard beams inside burning through and collapsing. As he rounded the corner he heard a single shot. Well, I won’t have to do that now, he thought. About a hundred yards away, he saw Julio lowering his hunting rifle. Abigail must have called him. Maybe he’s taken care of business. He motioned for Julio to come closer, and the young man picked his way along the edge of the clearing in which the dorm sat. Flames were now coming from every window, and Otto knew it was only a matter of time until the building collapsed.As Julio came close enough to hear, Otto called, “Did you get him?”
“I think so. It was dark inside so I can’t be sure.”
“We’ll have to go in to make sure.”
“We’d better do it quickly. I’ll go.”Otto shook his head.
“I’m the owner and it’s my responsibility. Go around and tell Tom and see how Charlie’s doing.”
“Wait until I get back.”
“No can do, amigo. It has to be done now!”
“Well, then, vaya con Dios.”
Otto shook his hand. “And you also, my friend.” With that, Julio disappeared around the corner.Otto studied the back wall to figure out the best approach. He chose the main door, which showed no evidence of burning. He drew in a deep breath, went over and felt the door and, satisfied that there wasn’t any fire behind it, opened it and went in.