Chapter 4: Shots fired
Gunny’s eyes glazed over, when they cleared he pushed me over to Al’s panther. He was already on his stomach, and when Gunny’s nose pushed at my knee I got the idea. “You want me to go with him?”
He nodded, then turned and joined Ella at the edge. She roared her fury, then the two black panthers leaped down and disappeared from view. I could hear howling in the distance, I tried to look around but Al was already standing up and moving. I had to hold on for dear life, this wasn’t the playful, fun run anymore.
I snuck a look back as Al led the way, setting a very fast pace downhill. The young ones were running single file, Olivia was at the back making sure none were left behind. Marge had moved away from us, running between us and the direction of the gunshot. I had to focus on riding, holding on for dear life as he changed directions.
I heard a haunting, painful howl, soon picked up on by a dozen other wolves. Even I could figure out something really bad had happened. I wiped the tears from my face with my sleeve, trying not to overthink things until I could find out more. I found myself wishing Gunny had turned me so I could be part of the Pack link and could hear what happened. I wanted to be at his side as he ran towards danger, not dashing for safety with the young ones.
Young ones. Charlotte!
My body tensed as I thought about her. Was she safe? What happened?
I could feel Al’s body react to my distress, but he didn’t slow down. I had to know. “Al, is it Josh or Charlotte?” I felt foolish, I was trying to communicate with a huge running panther from his back. “Chuff if yes, growl if no.” He growled as we leaped a boulder, I held on tight as I was able to breathe again.
The house was in sight, Tom was there holding the gate open, a rifle over his shoulder. I didn’t see anyone else. We ran full speed through the gate, and didn’t stop in the yard like I thought. Shelley was holding the front door open and she also had a rifle in her arms. Al leaped through the opening, his nails scraping the granite flooring for purchase before he finally stopped by the door to the basement. He shifted back underneath me, causing me to fall off him and roll to the side. The young ones were piling inside after me, each of them shifting back as they came into the house. Only Olivia stayed outside, I saw her walking around in her panther form.
Al pulled open the door to the basement and the line of naked children formed behind him. I didn’t watch, I ran upstairs to our room and grabbed my phone, FBI identification and Glock. Shoving the holster into my belt, I ran back out to where Shelley was kneeling by a window, rifle at her side. “Hall closet, extra rifles are there,” she yelled to me.
“Has someone called 911?”
“Yes, Sheriff is on his way.” I opened the door and looked at the racks of weapons. There were a dozen or so AR-15’s, some bolt action scoped rifles and shotguns. I grabbed one of the scoped AR’s, checked the magazine was full and shoved an extra magazine in my back pocket. I moved out just as Tom came in the front door.
Tom waved for me to come with him as he moved to the kitchen. He took a position near the kitchen door, looking out over the empty yard. I moved next to him, knowing instinctively to stay away from the big windows and the sliding glass door in the dining room. “Someone shot at the wolves as they were running, we don’t know if it is an attack so we are implementing our defense plans.” His face fell as he looked at me. “They killed Lance Albertson.”
My heart dropped in my chest; Lance was one of the boys who was playing volleyball last night with Charlotte. “Oh Jesus… he was only sixteen! Oh God, his poor family…”
“They saw it. He raced his brothers to the top of a rock, when he got there and looked back the round hit him in the chest. He was killed instantly.”
I looked over at the door, a now-dressed Al had come up from the basement, he was armed with a rifle as well. “Everyone is in the safe room, Craig wants them to stay there until he returns,” he said. “He and a few others are staying at the scene, the rest are on their way. Tom, we need to let them in.” Tom got up and went out the front door, running for the closed gate. As the door opened, I could hear sirens in the distance.
Al took his place at the door, looking over at me. “I don’t suppose you’d go to the safe room so Gunny doesn’t worry about you?”
I shook my head. “I’m FBI and I’m not mated to him yet, I don’t have to listen.”
He shook his head slowly. “I thought as much. Come on, it would be better for us if you helped with the local law enforcement.”
I put my badge on a chain around my neck and kept my rifle in my left hand as we went outside. I saw a dust cloud approaching, it was the wolves and they were closing fast. My heart surged as I saw Charlotte clinging to Josh’s back in the middle of the group. We stood aside as they passed through the gate. “GO TO THE SAFE ROOM AND WAIT FOR ME,” I yelled to Charlotte as they ran past. I watched as the group ran full speed into the house before the door closed, Shelley giving me one last look as she did it.
The first cruiser turned the corner and accelerated down the drive towards us. “Set the rifles down and keep your hands in sight, I’ll meet them,” I said. I had them leave the gate open, they stood in the driveway as I stood a few paces in front of them. The first vehicle skidded to a stop across the street from me, the second just before the turn for our driveway. “Senior Agent Conspeill, FBI,” I shouted as they started to get out. “These men are with me, no active threat here.”
The first deputy got out, rifle in hand, and covered the second as he came up and checked my identification. “Deputy Dalton.” He looked over at Al and nodded. “Beta Al, did you called in the shoot?”
“No, but we were out there when it happened,” I said. “One of our members was killed while in wolf form. High powered rifle, single shot.”
Al walked up now that he was recognized, I figured the Pack must have introduced themselves to local law enforcement at some point. “The Alphas are still out there with the victim and the family. Nobody saw the shooter.” He pulled out an aerial map of the property and surroundings. “The victim was shot here, on this rock formation. The shooter was over this way, near or on the road. We sent wolves out to investigate, but they found no people, no scents outside the road. This spot,” he pointed at a curve, “they picked up the smell of fresh gunpowder. From here it’s only thirty yards or so until this rock outcropping hides you from view.”
“What does that mean,” the second deputy asked.
“Whoever did the shooting didn’t get out of the vehicle,” Al replied. “We would have picked up a scent if they had.”
“That’s a hell of a shot from there,” I said.
“Yes, just over four hundred yards, uphill” Al said. “It’s rough terrain, though. You can’t drive closer than where we think the shooter was. They took the shot and immediately drove off, otherwise we would have spotted them.”
Deputy Dalton sighed. “So, the shooter was on county land and the victim on Pack land. I’ve got to ask my boss how this works for jurisdiction,” he said.
“No, it’s a Federal beef, just like if it was on an Indian reservation,” I said. “I need to call the Albuquerque field office and get them out here. Your office can work with them on the investigation.”
“And we need to go to the scene, at least the public one, and set up crime scene containment,” the Deputy replied.
“How about I take him to the shooter’s location, and you and Deputy Dalton meet the Alphas at the scene as soon as you’ve made your call,” Al asked.
“How will we get there, walk?”
“No, there are some ATV’s in the garage. I’ll have Olivia go with you, she knows the trails.” I quickly agreed, and Al and the other deputy sped off while I made my call. The Special Agent-In-Charge was surprised to hear from me, but his mood quickly changed. He promised agents and crime scene personnel would be leaving within the hour, and told me to preserve the scene as much as possible.
My heart was breaking for the family as they came into view. Zach and Laurie looked near catatonic, and their four remaining children were piled around them in wolf form. Ella’s panther was behind them, rubbing up against them and providing what little comfort she could. I tossed Craig and Gunny some clothes, and they pulled them on. I grabbed more from the storage box behind my seat, bringing them over to the Albertson’s and Ella. The deputy and I kept our backs turned while they all changed. I still wasn’t used to the casual nudity surrounding Pack life.
I didn’t turn around until I felt Gunny’s strong arms around me, the tingles lighting up my arms and neck as he buried his face in my scent. “I’m fine, Gunny. Let me work.” He let me go, and I turned around with the Deputy and we approached the rock that was stained with blood, the dead wolf in the center. “Did anyone move him?”
“I did,” Zach said. “I rolled him to check his wound, and I held him in my arms for a bit. I couldn’t do anything, he was just… gone.” Laurie buried her face in his chest, a fresh round of sobs breaking out.
“Gunny, can we get them home? They don’t need to see this, and we need their statements.” He nodded, moving over to them he knelt down to talk as Craig and Ella joined me. “Alphas, you know Deputy Dalton?” They nodded and shook his hand, their faces grim. “This is now an FBI case, agents and a crime scene team are on their way now. I need to set up a boundary and guard the scene until they arrive.” As I talked, the Deputy was already starting to string crime scene tape.
“I understand,” Craig said. “Gunny can stay here with you, he will watch to make sure Lance is treated in accordance with our customs. We will return to the house, there is a lot we need to do.” He walked forward and gave me a hug. “I’m glad you’re here, it makes me feel better about letting the FBI take over the investigation.”
“We’ll find the killer,” I promised.
“Rose, we won’t turn his body over to the humans. We’ll contact a Pack doctor, she can do the autopsy.”
I thought for a moment, this could be problematic. “Could a human medical examiner work with your Pack doctor? We can’t risk a problem if this goes to a human court.”
“I think so. You should know that we try to bury our dead at the next moonrise, so we do want to move quickly.” The Deputy was back from his circle as they backed up and shifted. I watched as the big black wolf and the black panther rubbed up against the Albertsons before they all trotted off. Gunny collected the discarded clothes and put them back into the ATV trunk.
I took the time to look around the scene from outside the tape. I could see the other cruiser on the road, although the two men were tiny specks at this distance. I was trying to imagine the shot when Gunny came up next to me. “What are you thinking,” he asked.
“It seems like a difficult shot,” I said.
He grunted, taking some time to look at it from a few angles. “It’s not easy, especially from a vehicle. From the sound, it was a larger caliber, probably a bolt action hunting rifle in .308 or bigger. There’s only a million or so of those in this state,” he said as he kicked the ground. “Whoever did this was either a professional, or a skilled shooter. He hit center mass, uphill and with a crosswind, and did it from a vehicle.”
“Could it have been accidental?” I had to ask.
“If you look at the terrain, they were in and out of view from that road as they ran down from the mountain. I bet Lance was perfectly silhouetted by the sky when he stood there, and it was the only time they weren’t moving. His brother said he was only standing there for ten seconds before he was shot. That means the person had the rifle out, was tracking them, and was waiting for the shot.” He looked at me, shaking his head. “The most troubling thing is the spot he picked, it was done to allow him to get away. This wasn’t some rancher taking a potshot, Rose. This was well planned.”
I had a bad feeling about this. We had no description, no vehicle, no motive, no explanation. I was starting to regret my promise to the Alphas earlier.
He pulled me into a hug. “I’m sorry, Rose. This wasn’t the weekend I had planned for you.”