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TROUBLESHOOTER

 

by Malcolm Ferrier

 

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CHAPTER FIVE

 

They would know he was coming.  It was unavoidable.  McCallum would have contacted Richards to tell him what had happened.  Jack had caught the next ferry to Galiano and could only hope that he’d be quick enough to catch Richards.

Located in the channel between Vancouver City and Vancouver Island, Galiano Island was the lesser-known brother to the movie star–infested Saltspring Island.  Long and thin, Galiano still retained a small town, “Beachcombers” feel.

As the ferry pulled into the dock at Sturdies Bay, Jack stood on the bow and looked at the town.  A new hotel had been built near the ferry dock but the island was much as he remembered.  His favorite Gulf Island, Jack had been coming to Galiano at least once a year for the past decade.  He hoped his familiarity with the island would give him an advantage.

He wheeled his motorbike off the ferry, started the engine, and slowly headed up the hill to the center of town.  Sturdies Bay was a small community.  The town was made up of a bakery, a bookstore, and a few other establishments.  The bakery was the hub of Galiano social life, so that was where he started.

He entered the small shop, the bell ringing over the door.  The smell of homemade bread and cookies wafted past him.  He ordered a chicken sandwich and fries from the booth at the back.  The young woman who helped him gave him an appraising glance.

“Just here for the day?” she asked.

“I’m not sure.  I thought I’d look around, maybe stay a night or two,” Jack said.

“It’s nice here during the week.  Not as many tourists.  Supposed to rain, though.”

“That’s the coast.”

“Well, have a good time.”  She handed him his food and smiled.

“Thanks.  By the way, do you know where I can find the Rod and Gun club?”

Her smile faded.  “Those weirdos?  You don’t look the type.”

“What do you mean?”

“They give me the creeps.  You don’t.”

Jack laughed.  “I’ll take that as a compliment.  I’m just trying to locate a colleague.”  Jack found a version of the truth was often the best approach.

“Well, I hope you know what you’re doing.  You’ll find the Gun club at the end of Cook Road.”

“Thanks.”  Jack took his meal to a table to eat.  It seemed the gun club had a reputation.

 

After checking into the hotel by the ferry dock, Jack got on the BMW and followed his map of the island to Cook Road.

Twenty minutes later, he pulled into the gravel parking lot of the Galiano Rod and Gun club.  The lot was empty except for an old GM pickup parked by the long, low timber building that Jack took for the clubhouse.  He walked over and went in the main doors.

As his eyes adjusted to the low lighting, he saw several long wood tables, stacks of chairs near the back door, and a window on the side that looked into a kitchen area.

“Hello?” Jack called.

No answer.

He called again, louder.  “Hello?”

Suddenly, the door in the back wall banged open and a short, stocky, balding man burst into the room.  He was carrying a rifle.

“Who the hell are you?” he yelled.  Jack breathed in slowly.  He kept his voice low and calm.

“My name is Jack.  I’m looking for a friend.”

The man looked Jack over.  The guns barrel wasn’t pointing at Jack yet, but it was close.

“Jack who?  And who are you looking for?”

“Jack Yale.  I’m looking for Richards.”

“You’re a friend of Richards?”  The gun lowered but there was still suspicion in the man’s eyes.

Jack decided to take a chance.  He was fairly certain the man he was seeking was ex-military, but he wasn’t positive.

“We were in the service together.  I thought I’d look him up.  Do you know where I can find him?”

The suspicious look remained.  “That depends.  If you were in the service with Richards, you must be able to shoot.”  The suspicion was replaced by craftiness.  “If you can beat me in a little shooting competition, I'll know you're who you say you are.  If you can’t, well…”  The man glanced down at his rifle.  “I guess you’ll have to go.”

 

They stood outside the back of the clubhouse.  They were facing a long outdoor firing range.  There were metal tracks like long clotheslines which led to the sandy slope of a hill at the end of the range.  The tracks were used for mechanically moving paper targets along the length of the range, and the sand on the hill stopped the bullets.  The man, who identified himself only as “Sonic,” was armed with a high-powered Remington.  He had provided Jack with a more than slightly used .22 caliber rifle.  There was a low table in front of them which contained the controls for the target tracks.

Sonic spoke.  “The rules are simple.  We'll use standard scored paper targets, we'll each get five shots as we alternate turns, and the highest total score wins.”

Jack looked at the targets.  There was an outline of a human figure with circles drawn within.  The circles around the head and the heart were worth ten points, the wider circles on the shoulders and navel five points, and the arms and legs two points.  The targets were similar to the ones at the CSIS training range.  He'd also spent countless hours on computer-generated VR ranges.  He felt confident.

“Sounds good to me.”

“Great,” said Sonic.  “I'll go first.”

He chambered a round into his Remington and stepped up to the firing position.  There were two targets set up at the end of the range, about fifty meters away.  He put on goggles and ear protection and lined up his target.  He fired.

The shot pierced the head circle of the leftmost target.  Ten points.  As the sound of the shot echoed away, Sonic turned smugly to Jack.

“Your turn.”

As Jack moved to the firing position, Sonic handed him a bullet.  He conspicuously did not offer Jack eye or ear protection.  He also kept behind as Jack loaded his rifle.  Sonic was taking no chances.

Jack centered the right-hand target in the rifle's sights.  He aimed for the heart circle, slowed his breathing, inhaled halfway, held, and squeezed the trigger.

“Ah, ha, ha, ha!” Sonic laughed.

The shot had passed through the target's right arm!  Only two points.  This wasn’t right.  He had practiced enough to know that missing that widely was not his error.  Sonic had either tampered with the sights or had given him a defective rifle.  Jack hoped it was the former.  He could compensate for tampering but not for faulty parts.

Sonic took his place.  It may have been his overconfidence or his laughing fit, but he only managed a five-point shot to the target's shoulder.  Looking somewhat annoyed, he tossed Jack another round.

Loading his rifle, Jack looked at his target.  He had to trust that his previous targeting had been accurate, and compensate to the left the exact distance from the center of the heart circle to his previous misfired shot.  He pulled the trigger.

He heard a rapid intake of breath from Sonic.  He had nailed the center of the heart circle.  Ten points.  The score was now fifteen Sonic, twelve Jack.

The next two rounds were flawless.  They each scored two more ten point shots, each putting one in the head circle and one in the heart.  Thirty-five Sonic, thirty-two Jack.  The next round would determine the game.

Sonic took his time with the shot.  He planted his feet firmly, aimed carefully, and after some time finally pulled the trigger.

“Fuck!”

The pressure must have gotten to him.  His shot had passed through the target's navel.  Only five points.  But this meant that Jack still needed a bull’s-eye or he’d lose.

Sonic passed him the final bullet.  Jack loaded, aimed carefully, and fired.

“You missed!” shouted Sonic.

Jack narrowed his eyes.  He'd aimed for the head, but the only hole in the circle was from his previous head shot.

“Well," said Sonic.  "You missed completely.  One thing I know, anyone who used to work with Richards must be able to shoot better than that.”  Sonic had reloaded his rifle while Jack was preparing to shoot.  He swung the barrel up to cover Jack.

“Richards is a good friend of mine.  I know he doesn’t like company, especially strangers,” stated Sonic quietly.

Jack backed away until he bumped into the weapon table.  He thought quickly.  He couldn’t have missed by that much!  There was only one possibility.

He reached behind and triggered the track controls.  The targets began to slide towards them.

“What the hell you playing at?” yelled Sonic.

The targets reach the table.  Jack, moving slowly and deliberately, turned around to look at his target, putting his back to Sonic.

“Just as I thought,” said Jack.

“What are you talking about?”

“It looks like I won.”

“Whaddya mean?”

“Take a look.”

“Move away, then.”

Keeping his rifle leveled as Jack backed away, Sonic moved over to look at the target.

“Well, I’ll be,” said Sonic.

The hole in the center of the head circle was actually two overlapping holes.  Jack had managed two precise bull’s-eyes with a misaligned rifle.  Forty Sonic, forty-two Jack.

Sonic lowered his weapon.

“That’s more like Richards.  In fact, I’m not sure even he’s ever had a session like this.  I’m sorry about the treatment.  I needed to make sure you were who you said you are.  I’ll tell you where you can find him.”

 

“Trespassers will be Composted.”

Jack read the sign again.  It would have been funny, but he was pretty sure the person who made the sign wasn’t joking.

Jack was standing on a narrow dirt road bordered by thick brush.  The road dead-ended against a large metal gate upon which the sign was posted.  He looked to either side.  A tall wooden fence curved off in both directions, clearly surrounding a sizable compound.

Sonic had provided the location of Richards' residence after the contest.  It was three-quarters of the way up the island in a relatively unoccupied area.

Jack had hidden his BMW in a clearing a mile or so up the road.  On his walk here he had passed only one house.  He decided to complete his recce by gathering some information.

He walked up the drive of the nearby house and knocked on the door.  After a short wait a middle-aged woman answered the door.

“Can I help you?” asked the woman.

Jack had his story ready.

“I’m sorry to bother you, but I was hoping you could help me.  I’m trying to walk to Dionisio Park and this road seems to stop at a gate down the road.  Is there any way I can get through?”

Dionisio Point Provincial Park was a marine access park on the north tip of Galiano.  The only way to get there was by boat or on foot.  Jack was sure she’d buy his cover.

“I’m afraid not,” she said.  “You’ll have to go back to the fork and take a left.”

“What about the gate?  Could I talk to someone who’ll let me through?”

“I don’t think so.  The owner’s a little… strange down there.”

“What do you mean?”

“He doesn’t much like company.  I hardly ever see him, and when I do he pretty much keeps to himself.  I think he wants to live off the grid.”

Jack played the curious tourist.  “What’s up with that?  Is he nuts?”

The woman’s expression became brittle.  “I don’t think so.  He lost his wife and baby daughter not long ago.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.  I appreciate your help.  I'll head back to the main road.”

“No problem.  Have a good day.”  She closed the door.

Jack walked back to his motorcycle and thought about these new developments.  Richards had recently lost his wife and daughter.  That’s kind of loss could drive a man to extreme behavior.  The pieces of the puzzle were starting to come together, but Jack still couldn’t see what picture they formed.

He’d pay a visit to Richards' place tonight.

 

After dark, Jack made his way quietly through the brush to the side wall of Richards' compound.  He was dressed in a black T-shirt and cargo pants.  The full moon provided sufficient light as he passed silently through the tall grass.

The wall was made of thick wood planks nailed to a solid timber frame and rose ten feet. There were no handholds or gaps.  He followed the curve of the wall away from the main gate, searching for a weakness.

He found it.  About halfway around, almost directly opposite the main gate, Jack located a small gap underneath the fence.  Made by animals, it was too small for Jack to fit without modifications.  As quietly as possible, Jack set about upgrading it.

After twenty minutes of burrowing with his hands, the gap was wide enough to allow him to enter the compound.  He crawled through and crouched near the end of a sizable but neglected garden.  He surveyed the enclosure.

It was about two hundred meters across.  Jack could see a well-constructed two-story log home with solar panels on the roof, a large shed that probably doubled as a workshop, and a smaller-scale version of the Gun Club firing range.  Light shone out of the main floor windows of the house.  Jack moved closer to take a look.  He hadn’t heard a single bark so he was fairly certain there were no dogs.  However, he still moved as silently as possible in order to let sleeping ones lie.

He stayed far enough away from the windows to remain in darkness.  He could see a well-appointed kitchen through the first set of windows.  Adjoining was a comfortable living room with a large rug thrown over a hardwood floor.  Sitting cross-legged in the middle of the rug was a man.

This had to be Richards.  He was tall, dark-haired, and wore a few days growth of beard.  He was fit-looking, but Jack could see a darkness in his hardened features.  He was methodically cleaning a rifle piece by piece.

Although he was sure this was the man he was looking for, Jack wanted to find hard evidence.  He needed to check out the rest of the compound before calling for backup.

Jack moved away from the windows and crossed to the darkened firing range.  There was a bench for holding weapons and ammo, but no automated track system.  The targets were simply fixed to boards at the end of the range.  Jack could see an unmarked target pinned in place.

The work shed nearby was unlocked.  The door made a slight creaking sound as he entered.  Jack froze.  He waited a few breathless minutes to see if he had been heard.  The lights remained on at the house, however, and Richards did not come out to investigate.

Jack scanned the room.  It contained a tool bench, some gardening equipment, and a riding lawnmower.  There was also a plastic lawn chair, a trashcan, and lots of dust and cobwebs.

He checked the tool bench but found nothing.  He wasn’t exactly sure what he was looking for, but he’d know it when he saw it.  He looked over the walls, at the gardening tools, and at the trashcan.  Wait.  The trashcan.

Inside there were grass clippings, plastic wrap, wood shavings, and crumpled wads of paper.  Jack removed one of the wads and flattened it out.  It was a paper target with several precise holes in the shoulder.  He pulled out another; the same target, the same holes in the shoulder.  The third and fourth were identical.  All with surgically precise holes in the shoulder…

Wait a minute.  Suddenly it all came together.  Maxwell Stevens, the Minister of Education, had been shot in the shoulder.  It had been intentional.  Richards had not planned to kill Stevens, but simply wound him.  This meant that Stevens was involved in, if not behind, the whole affair.

“I’m sorry to keep you waiting.”

Jack whirled around to look down the barrel of Richards' loaded rifle.

“I had to put my gun back together,” said Richards.  “You’re the Kung Fu master, I presume?”

 

 

 

Copyright © 2006 Malcolm Ferrier

 

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