7

After Petra Searles went back to the drugstore (to do inventory, she said), Toby Manning asked Rommie if he could help with anything. Rommie shook his head. “Go on home. See what you can do for your dad and mom.”

“It’s just Dad,” Toby said. “Mom went to the supermarket over in Castle Rock Saturday morning. She says the prices at Food City are too high. What are you going to do?”

“Nothin much,” Rommie said vaguely. “Tell me somethin, Tobes—why you an Petra wearin those blue rags around your arms?”

Toby glanced at it as if he’d forgotten it was there. “Just showing solidarity,” he said. “After what happened last night at the hospital… after everything that’s been happening…”

Rommie nodded. “You ain’t deputized, nor nothin?”

“Heck, no. It’s more… you remember after nine-eleven, when it seemed like everybody had a New York Fire Department or Police Department hat and shirt? It’s like that.” He considered. “I guess if they needed help, I’d be glad to pitch in, but it seems like they’re doing fine. You sure you don’t need help?”

“Yuh. Now scat. I’ll call you if I decide to open this afternoon.”

“Okay.” Toby’s eyes gleamed. “Maybe we could have a Dome Sale. You know what they say—when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”

“Maybe, maybe,” Rommie said, but he doubted there would be any such sale. This morning he was much less interested than he had been in unloading shoddy goods at prices that looked like bargains. He felt that he had undergone big changes in the last three days—not so much of character as of perspective. Some of it had to do with fighting the fire and the camaraderie afterward. That had been the real town at work, he thought. The town’s better nature. And a lot of it had to do with the murder of his once-upon-a-time lover, Brenda Perkins… whom Rommie still thought of as Brenda Morse. One hot ticket she’d been, and if he discovered who had cooled her off—assuming that Rusty was right about it not being Dale Barbara—that person would pay. Rommie Burpee would see to that personally.

At the back of his cavernous store was the Home Repairs section, conveniently located next to the Do-It-Yourself section. Rommie grabbed a set of heavy-duty metal snips from the latter, then entered the former and proceeded to the farthest, darkest, and dustiest corner of his retail kingdom. Here he found two dozen fifty-pound rolls of Santa Rosa lead sheeting, ordinarily used for roofing, flashing, and chimney insulation. He loaded two of the rolls (and the metal snips) into a shopping cart and rolled the cart back through the store until he reached the sports department. Here he set to work picking and choosing. Several times he burst out laughing. It was going to work, but yes, Rusty Everett was going to look tr?s amusant.

When he was done, he straightened up to stretch the kinks out of his back and caught sight of a deer-in-the-crosshairs poster on the far side of the sports department. Printed above the deer was this reminder: HUNTING SEASON’S ALMOST HERE—TIME TO GUN UP!

Given the way things were going, Rommie thought that gunning up might be a good idea. Especially if Rennie or Randolph decided that confiscating any weapons but those belonging to the cops would be a good idea.

He rolled another shopping cart over to the locked rifle cases, working through the considerable ring of keys hanging from his belt by touch alone. Burpee’s sold exclusively Winchester products, and given that deer season was only a week away, Rommie thought he could justify a few holes in his stock if he were asked. He selected a Wildcat.22, a speed-pump Black Shadow, and two Black Defenders, also with the speed-pump feature. To this he added a Model 70 Extreme Weather (with scope) and a 70 Featherweight (without). He took ammo for all the guns, then pushed the cart down to his office and stowed the guns in his old green Defender floor-safe.

This is paranoid, you know, he thought as he twirled the dial.

But it didn’t feel paranoid. And as he went back out to wait for Rusty and the kids, he reminded himself to tie a blue rag around his arm. And to tell Rusty to do the same. Camouflage wasn’t a bad idea.

Any deer hunter knew that.

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