Conard County Revenge

By: Rachel Lee

CHAPTER 1

ATF Agent Darcy Eccles wondered what the hell she was doing driving into a small one-horse town that might as well have been named Nowhere, Wyoming, instead of Conard City. City? The name was ironic, if not a downright joke. Someone had once cherished grandiose dreams for this place.

Aw, heck. She wasn’t the snob her thoughts made her sound like. Small towns were wonderful places. The fact that her adult life had largely been lived in bigger cities didn’t change the fact that a bomber had struck here, and like it or not, her job required her to investigate.

She only wondered where to stop first. The sheriff’s office had called for ATF’s help, but the fire department might have more information on the bombing. All of which would have been shared with the sheriff, of course. Or should have been.

Unfortunately, she’d run into territorial political bailiwicks before. She wondered if she’d find them here. There didn’t appear to be a lot of anything to fight over, but people were the same everywhere. Too many wanted to be the biggest frog in even the smallest pond.

Sheriff’s office, she decided as her GPS guided her along a relatively straight route.

No, her whole problem in being here was that she’d been pulled off a large case of suspected terror bombing. The work had been challenging, finding all the bits even more so, and supporting the conclusion… Well, they’d been getting closer.

Now here she was, a solo flight to find out why an explosion had happened in one corner of a high school shop. And the main reason she was here was the sheriff’s request had included the acronym ANFO.

Before she even started asking questions, she suspected she’d find out the whole thing had been accidental, some high schooler’s experiment gone awry. Kids were wont to try things out to see if they worked.

But she had to admit, building an ANFO bomb wasn’t easy. More of them failed than succeeded unless you had pure anhydrous ammonia and the best measuring equipment. Lots of terrorists and soldiers tried to make them on the fly. Many never exploded.

But someone in this out-of-the-way place had succeeded. Not good for anyone, least of all the perp if they found him. Mercifully, from her understanding, no one had been killed.

Picking up her cell phone, she found she had a signal again. She pulled over on the shoulder and checked the GPS. Her satellite phone was in the trunk, but she hadn’t exactly needed it until she found herself in a cell dead zone. Then she didn’t need it because she rode the state highway all the way to town.

She punched in the number of the sheriff’s office and spoke to the dispatcher. “Special Agent Eccles, ATF,” she announced. “Please let the sheriff know that I’m twenty minutes out. He should be expecting me.”

“He is,” a croaky voice answered. “We’ll get the fire chief over here, too.”

“Thank you.”

She sat for a moment while her engine idled, trying to shift mental gears. Part of her was still very absorbed in the investigation she had left behind. Now she needed all her attention on the school bombing, like it or not. It would be easy to write it off, but that was not her ethic, nor the ethic of the ATF. There was a job to be done, and she’d give it her best.

The sides of the state highway began to sprout houses, and as the next miles passed, the density grew until there was no longer any question that she was reaching Conard City.

There was a loop that could take her around town, but she drove straight in, toward the city center. The trees grew leafy with the light green of spring, the houses gracious despite their ages. A lot of history here, she imagined. Families with deep roots. Deceptively calm, she supposed. Although she doubted they had many bombs exploding around here.

At the first, and only, traffic light she encountered, she found the sheriff’s office on the southwest corner of Main and Front. Several angled parking spaces remained open, none of them labeled, so she pulled into one.

Pretty courthouse square, she thought, looking around as she climbed out and stretched her legs from the long drive. It looked as if it had been transplanted from New England, the courthouse an edifice of red brick and tall white columns with an imposing staircase. It even had a dome atop it.

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