about to hang up when a tentative male voice said, “Hello? I mean, Sheriff’s Department.”
“Can I speak to Michele Castro?” The man who answered might well have been a janitor or a computer geek—he hardly sounded as though he knew his way around a crime scene.
“She’s out in the field,” the voice said. For a second, I was confused at the notion of Michele Castro tromping through beds of alfalfa, but then I realized that was cop talk.
“What about Sheriff Murphy?”
“Not here,” the voice intoned.
Exasperated, I nearly tossed the cell phone into the newly green bushes, but instead I took a deep breath and said, “Listen, I live on Iron Mill Road. I found a rifle in my attic and I want to report it. I’m afraid to go back into the house myself because the person who put it there might be—”
“Hold on. Stay where you are. What did you say your name is?”
“Lili Marino,” I said. Generic disco music filled my ear. As I waited in confusion, a white and blue police car screamed past me, screeched to a halt about one hundred yards down the road, and then backed up, fishtailing on the blacktop until it came to a stop in front of me.
Either that dispatcher was more efficient than I thought, or the officer in the cruiser was more interested in me than she should have been.
Michele Castro Stepped out of the cruiser and approached me, her right hand resting lightly on the revolver that hung at her hip. I still couldn’t get past the cheerleader image—blond hair pulled back into a low ponytail, steady green eyes rimmed by lashes that didn’t need mascara, a figure made to wear tailored jeans and snug, colorful T-shirts. “Stand up and hold your hands out at your sides,” she said.
Confused, my heart pounding, I obeyed.
She continued to take careful steps forward, her eyes locked onto mine. Static crackled from some piece of equipment hanging from her belt. Her face seemed to be cast in stone—no twitching, no movement, no expression at all to give away her feelings. We might not be friends, but I hardly expected her to treat me like a criminal because I’d discovered a gun in my attic in a truly freakish way.
“What are you doing parked by the side of the road?” Her right hand gripped the handle of the gun.
“I—didn’t you get my message? About the rifle?” My idea of a perfect Thursday afternoon did not include standing in the dappled shade of a large willow facing off against a law enforcement officer growling questions at me.
“Answer my question. How come you were parked at the side of the road?”
My frustration ballooned into exasperation. “I just called your office from my cell phone. Someone left a . . . I don’t know . . . I found a rifle. It fell out of my bathroom ceiling. I thought whoever put it there might still be in my house so I left. And I called the sheriff ’s department and then you came and here we are.”
Her face softened, but only for a second before hardening back into a stern, official mask. “What kind of rifle?”
“The kind that shoots.” The words were out before I could deflect my smart remark into something that might not raise her hackles. My father’s handguns were familiar to me, but rifles? Not in Brooklyn. “I don’t know. It was big, so I knew it was a rifle, but that’s all I can tell you.”
“Where is it now?” She didn’t brush away the gnat that flew in front of her face, but she did blink. Somehow, I found that reassuring.
“On the floor in my bathroom. Right where it fell. I didn’t touch it, and I didn’t move it. It would be fine with me if you came back to the house and just took it away. I don’t want it or anything. I mean, I want to get rid of it, you know.” Babbling through my nervousness, I maintained eye contact with Michele Castro, Columbia County undersheriff, who watched me with a cool, analytical stare.
An hour earlier, I would have said that my biggest problem was figuring out how to