Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава

I tried to picture what could have caused the mark. A space-ship blasting off was what my mind was telling me, but another voice inside still said “nonsense.”

I knelt and tried to touch the singed stalks, but I couldn’t reach far enough under the police tape. My fingers Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава, however, brushed the nearby grass. When I drew back my хэнд, my fingertips were coated with a smelly, powdery dust. The pungent unpleasant odor reminded me of something I’d smelled before. But what?

I knew I’d remember eventually. I wiped my fingers on a tissue and Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава stuffed it into my pocket, then continued around the rim of the field. Soon I reached the stand of tall pines and slender birches that marked the start of the forest, possibly the same forest that bordered Aldwin’s land. The smell of burned foliage was even stronger there Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава.

I noticed the highest branches of the trees were angled sharply away from the meadow—again, as if a wind had pushed them aside.

How had someone managed to wreak all this havoc on the field and forest?

I was flummoxed. If this was a part of a hoax, it Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава had been brilliantly executed.

And if it wasn’t a hoax, then what was it?

A chill went up my spine as I was forced to admit the truth: Maybe the UFOs were for real.

Trashed

No sooner did the thought cross my mind than I felt the hairs at the Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава back of my neck rise up. I sensed I was in danger.

“UFOs only turn up at night!” I uttered the words aloud simply to calm myself.

Just then I heard the snap of a branch breaking behind me.

I whirled around and gasped. “Mayor Brody!”

His face Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава half-shadowed by the pines, the tall man smiled sheepishly. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you. The trooper down by the road told me you were up here, scouting out the scene of the crime, so to speak.” He sounded genial enough, but he had scared the daylights out Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава of me.

“You didn’t have to sneak up on me like that.”

“You do seem a bit jumpy” was his response. “Which makes sense, considering what happened on the Nichols farm. So we’ve finally got you convinced that our space visitors are the genuine article Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава.”

“What makes you think that?” While my reservations about the existence of the UFOs were fading, I was far from convinced.

He had the courtesy to look embarrassed as he admitted, “I overheard you just now. Talking to yourself—about UFOs not appearing during the day.”

“Yeah, well Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава, I just thought I was alone” was all I said.

“Being alone up here gives me the jitters too.” He stepped out of the shadows and into the sun. “It’s pretty amazing, all the damage they’ve caused.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” I confessed. “Have there been any Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава strong lightning storms recently that might have burned the grass?”

The mayor frowned. “Seeing all this, you’re still skeptical?”

“Yeah, I guess,” I answered. “For instance there’s this weird smell in the air.”

The mayor sniffed. “Very unpleasant.”

“Very chemical, and very familiar,” I pointed out Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава. “Would creatures from outer space have the same chemicals we do?”

“Why not? The whole universe is мейд of the same elements,” he said. “Though I am a retired high school chemistry teacher, I assume that’s general knowledge.”

Did he think I was ignorant of basic science? I felt Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава my temper rising, but I managed to keep my tone even as I said, “Yes, it is, but would some advanced civilization necessarily combine chemicals in the same way we do?”

“Good question,” he said. “But, truth is, there are only so many—” A loud shout echoed across the field Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава, cutting him off.

“Hey, you! Get out of there, now!”

We both spun around. Three troopers, guns drawn, were racing up the embankment. They weren’t rushing toward us, though—they were running in the opposite direction.

“Bess!” I gasped, and darted back up the rise.

I arrived Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава just as Bess was crawling out from under the police tape. “I just wanted to get a closer look,” she said. She spotted the guns and paled.

“Put those guns down!” the mayor ordered.

The troopers instantly obeyed. The one who’d checked us out earlier approached Bess. “I Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава told you to stay outside of the cordoned area.”

Bess visibly gulped. “I know, I know.” She hazarded a smile. “I got carried away. I wanted to get closer to feel the alien vibes.”

Her dimples worked their usual magic. The trooper’s stern expression softened. “Don’t Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава do it again.”

Bess dropped her eyes and looked repentant, but I noticed her surreptitiously slip something into her pocket.

Turning to me, the mayor seconded the trooper. “You were given free run of the crime scene, with some clear rules, Nancy. Mess up again, and we’ll Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава bar you from the site. I don’t care who wants you investigating what,” he added.

Did he and Captain Greene share some negative history? I мейд a mental note to find out from the innkeeper later.

I мейд the appropriate apologetic remarks, then steered Bess to the car. As soon as Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава we were inside, I asked, “What was that about ‘alien vibes,’ and what, exactly, did you put in your pocket?”

Bess began to grin. “Sounded good, didn’t it? Actually, I wanted to get a closer look at this.” She pulled a piece of glittery metal out of Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава her pocket.

“What is it?” I asked, instantly curious.

She handed it to me. “I don’t know. When the sun came out, I spotted it in the grass. I just had to check it out.”

While I was driving, I couldn’t really study the metal shard. I gave Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава it back to Bess, then told her, “Bess, you’ve just taken evidence from a crime scene.”

“There’s been no crime, Nancy. The UFOs haven’t hurt anyone.”

“Have you forgotten Aldwin’s dog?”

Bess shook her head. “Of course not, but that just happened today. I Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава bet the troopers haven’t even found out about it yet.”

“They probably know,” I said, without thinking. “The mayor did.”

“How did he find out about it so fast?” Bess asked.

“Chatter over the police radio, probably. No doubt he has a receiver in his car.” I Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава refused to let Bess divert my attention. “The mayor and Sherlock aren’t the point here. You shouldn’t have taken this piece of junk from the meadow. It may be important.”

“If I bring it back,” Bess said, before I got a chance to say she should Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава, “they’ll ban you from your investigation for sure. Besides, there was more of it.”

“Where?”

“All over the place. It just doesn’t show up unless the sun hits it,” she said.

That’s why I’d missed it. The sun had been ducking in and out of the clouds all Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава morning long. Maybe I’d find some closer to the woods but outside the restricted area. As soon as I could, I’d go back to check.

As I headed back to town, the white Reel TV van came barreling down the other side of the road Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава, heading back toward the meadow. I watched it disappear around the curve.

Bess chuckled. “They managed to miss filming a pretty good scene up there.”

“I’m glad,” I said. “Imagine having troopers threatening you, immortalized on video tape.” Then I remembered something. “I thought they didn’t Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава have access back here.”

“Someone changed the rules, I guess,” Bess said, then moaned. “Would you look at this?”

I glanced away from the road. She was holding up her foot. Her new sneakers were covered in some kind of dark goo.

“You must have stepped in something nasty back there Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава in the meadow,” I told her as she rummaged in her bag for a tissue.

She wiped her shoe, then groaned. “I don’t believe this!”

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“It’s some sort of paint.” She scrubbed at her shoe some more. “And it Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава stains, big-time,” she mumbled. “Maybe Winnie has a stain remover back at the restaurant.”

Bess was still lamenting the state of her new sneakers when we pulled up in front of Winnie’s café.

A small crowd was gathered outside the entrance, and a black-and-white town Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава police patrol car was parked in front. Winnie stood in the doorway, looking distressed. As I parked, George spotted us and hurried over.

“You won’t believe what happened!” she said as I jumped out. “Someone broke into the restaurant in the middle of the night. They trashed the place.”

Bess Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава and I followed George into the restaurant. Tables were overturned, and baked good were scattered around the floor. Jars of jams and jellies were knocked off the shelf; shards of glass were everywhere. It was a complete mess!

The only things that weren’t broken or overturned Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава seemed to be the display cases, and this surprised me. These vandals were oddly selective.

Winnie had brought the policeman inside. Joel Scarletti stood beside her, looking equally distraught.

“Officer Cargill,” she was saying, “who’d do this?”

“It’s all my fault,” Joel told the officer. “I finished Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава the baking at about three a.m. The front was all locked up, but when I left out the back, I didn’t lock the door. I rarely do, because no one’s ever broken in before.”

Officer Cargill pursed his lips. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. No one locks Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава doors around here—but now with the flood of tourists and such, we’re just going to have to change our ways.”

The officer went off to talk to some workers in the kitchen. I decided to check the back door. It dangled half off its Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава hinges, and the frame had been partially ripped apart.

“What’s wrong with this picture?” I asked Bess as she and George walked up.

“More like what’s wrong with the door,” she said. “Winnie’s going to need a new one, that’s for sure. In the meantime I could Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава do some temporary repairs on this one.”

“I’m sure Winnie will appreciate all the help she can get, but my question is, why in the world would a thief wreck the door trying to break in, when it wasn’t locked to begin with?”

“Whoever did it Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава probably just wanted to cause Winnie more trouble,” George said. She sounded angry. “Whoever did this was just plain mean. No money was taken. Fortunately, I had locked the computer under the counter, or that would have been vandalized too.”

“It wasn’t vandals,” Officer Cargill declared from inside the restaurant Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава. He was standing in the short passage that led from the kitchen to the back door and the alley. “In fact, it wasn’t even a who.” He paused, and I could see him struggling not to laugh. “It was a what.”

“You mean the aliens?” Bess gasped Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава.

Officer Cargill caught my eye and began to chuckle.

I cracked up as the pieces of this particular puzzle snapped into place. Winnie hurried up to us and looked at me in dismay. “Sorry, Winnie,” I gasped when I was able to get my breath. “The place is Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава a disaster area. But this time round, it wasn’t sabotage. Your culprit lacked hands, but sure had claws.”

“Good for you!” The policeman looked at me with respect. “I’m pretty sure I know what happened. Your assistant here was baking. The pies probably smelled good. Bears Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава sometime wander into town. This one wandered right into your kitchen.”

Winnie sagged against the wall, relief evident on her face. “For some reason that makes this mess easier to deal with—though the bear couldn’t have had worse timing. How will I ever get this place together Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава before dinner? I’m booked solid.”

“We’ll all help!” George offered.

“And so will lots of other people,” a young woman spoke up from the doorway. I saw that she wore an apron emblazoned with the logo of the pizza shop next door. “I’ll round up a Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава few guys to do the heavy work. That’ll free up your people to man the kitchen.” Several other shopkeepers chimed in, offering help.

“I’m good in the kitchen too,” George reminded her. “I’m not my mother’s daughter for nothing.”

“No, George,” Winnie said softly as we Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава walked back to the front of the café. “I’d rather have you concentrate on the computer. This might have been the work of a bear, but my computer woes were caused by humans!”

I was about to offer my services, when with a screech of brakes a battered pickup truck Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава came to an abrupt stop in front of the café. A stout, elderly woman climbed out of the passenger side with a bit of difficulty, but once she was on the sidewalk, she moved with surprising speed.

She marched right up to Officer Cargill. “First the dog,” she exclaimed Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава, her blue eyes furious. “Now Aldwin. He’s gone missing! Can’t imagine what aliens—or anyone else, for that matter—would want with the likes of Aldwin, but there it is: He’s gone!”

Close Encounter

“Addie May Nichols, you’re making no sense. Slow down. Tell me Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава exactly what happened.” Officer Cargill tried to take the woman’s arm, but she shook him off.

“If I knew exactly what happened, I wouldn’t be here, would I?” she replied testily.

“Probably not,” he said. I could see he was trying to humor her. “But start from Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава the beginning. What’s all this about your brother going missing? More to the point, what in the world does this have to do with one of your dogs?”

Upon hearing the officer’s words, I instantly realized two things. This woman was Aldwin’s sister. And Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава while the mayor knew about the dognapping, the officer didn’t.

I found that latter bit decidedly odd. Almost as odd as seeing who chose that moment to slide out of the driver’s side of the pickup truck.

I recognized him immediately as Nathan Blackman. That’s when I remembered Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава where I’d heard of the Nichols farm. Blackman was renting one of the farm’s chateau cabins.

He leaned back against the cab of the truck. His expression was decidedly amused as he watched Addie May begin her story.

She explained how Aldwin discovered Sherlock had been Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава dognapped. “Then, after the troopers left, Aldwin came into the house. I was in the basement doing laundry. When I came back upstairs, he was gone. At first I thought he’d headed off to look for Sherlock, but then I found his cane on the porch. He Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава couldn’t have gone far without it.”

“Probably those aliens teleported him clear off the porch,” Nathan said, his voice mocking.

Though I still wasn’t sold on the alien abduction scenario, I couldn’t stand Nathan’s sarcastic tone. “And exactly what do you think happened to Aldwin?” I challenged Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава.

He shrugged. “Beats me. First a dog goes missing, then the dog’s owner. Maybe it really is aliens, or... who knows? So many new folks in town could mean some foul play.”

I found Nathan’s suggestion curious. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the guy was up Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава to no good. Then again, maybe I was being unfair. Just because he looked scruffy and eccentric didn’t mean he was up to no good.

I had learned a long time ago to trust my instincts, though—and my gut feeling about Nathan Blackman said there Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава was more to him than met the eye.

The more I thought about it, the more likely it seemed that a science fiction writer might very well benefit from living in a town where aliens were rumored to abduct people and their pets. It was the perfect place Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава to write an eyewitness report. With the publicity he’d boost his chances of getting a more lucrative deal for his next book.

Since he lived on the Nichols farm, it would be a cinch for him to lure Sherlock away. As for Aldwin... I shuddered at the thought. Luring either of Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава them might be easy, but keeping them hidden would be nearly impossible—unless he had done them some real harm.

I decided I had to get back to the farm and somehow check out his cabin when he wasn’t around.

Just then Addie May stood Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава up straighter. Apparently, talking to Officer Cargill had calmed her some. They shook hands, and I overheard the officer tell her that perhaps Aldwin got a ride from someone who offered to help him look for the dog. With any luck he’d be home by the time she got Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава back to the farm.

“I doubt it,” Addie May said, “but just in case, I’d better head home now. I sure hope you’re right, Larry Cargill.”

As she and Nathan left, I realized I’d have to wait to search the writer’s digs. I could Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава check him out on the Internet once George’s computer was available, though. With that in mind I went back inside. George had righted one of the tables and was doing something to Winnie’s laptop. As I approached, she looked up.

“Just the person I want to see,” she Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава said. “Can you give me a lift back to the inn?”

“Aren’t you going to work on Winnie’s website?”

“I am,” George said. “But I’ve already transmitted all the files I need from her computer to mine. I’d rather work in the quiet of our Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава room than here,” she explained.

“I’ll get Bess,” I said.

When I found her, Bess was in the middle of fixing Winnie’s back door. Joel was holding the door in place while Bess secured the bottom hinge to the newly mended door frame.

Bess glanced up at Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава me, taking in the car keys in my хэнд. “I need to finish up here,” she said. “I’ll catch up with you later.”

I dropped George off at the inn, and after grabbing a warmer jacket and a flashlight, I decided to go back to the meadow. This time Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава I was determined to evade not only the Reel TV crew but the police. I asked George if she could гугл up a map of Brody’s Junction.

“Sure,” she said. A minute later she had surfed her way right onto the site of the county’s Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава highway department and downloaded a map depicting every back road within twenty miles of Brody’s Junction.

George printed out the map on her portable printer. “Good luck,” she said, handing it to me.

Stuffing it into my pocket, I doubled down the stairs and ran smack into Izzy Sanchez. “Where Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава were you this morning?” she asked. “I mean after that dognapping incident, which, by the way, will make great footage. My guys are on the scene now.”

“So they already know about Aldwin going missing?” I asked, avoiding her original question.

Her eyes widened. “That old farmer?” She sounded shocked Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава, but I had a hunch she knew all about Aldwin’s abduction. “Did they get him, too?”

“Whoever ‘they’ are, yes, they did. If your guys want to help find him, they should check their footage for clues—that is, if he went missing after they began Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава spying on his farm.” The fact that I’d emphasized the word spying didn’t escape Izzy’s notice.

“Nancy, why are you so negative about the show, about us, and more important, about the aliens?”

I felt like I was being interviewed, but then I reminded myself Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава I had signed the release. “Off the record?”

She gave a reluctant nod.

“Okay. I like reality TV shows just fine. But I never wanted to be on one. In some ways I’m a private person. I only agreed to let you film me so I could prove the sightings are Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава faked.”

“And what have you found so far?” Izzy asked.

“I’m not sure,” I answered. I wasn’t ready to admit to her I was beginning to consider that the sightings might be the real McCoy.

Izzy shrugged. “Off the record, where did you hear about Aldwin going Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава missing?”

“In town, from his sister.” Suddenly inspiration struck. I’d figured out how to divert Izzy. “But I’m surprised your crew wasn’t there to cover the break-in.”

“We’re already spread pretty thin. They can’t be everywhere,” Izzy said, then frowned. “Wait Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава a minute—what break-in?” This time her surprise seemed genuine.

“At Winnie’s café. You should check it out. Some people are blaming it on the UFOs.” I purposely didn’t mention a thing about the bear.

“Uh, thanks,” Izzy said, sounding puzzled. She pulled out her cell and speed Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава-dialed someone. When I walked away, she was talking quickly to whoever was on the other end. I climbed into my car convinced that I’d sent her on a wild goose chase and maybe wrangled some time alone away from Reel TV’s prying eyes Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава.

Using George’s map, I chose my route and headed off. Frequent checks in my rearview mirror proved my theory was right. I had ditched the TV crew, at least temporarily. All too soon, though, they’d learn that Winnie’s break-in had nothing to do with aliens—real or imagined Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава.

My route took me past Aldwin’s farm and the vegetable stand. As I went by the vegetable stand, I slowed down and took a good look out the window. The pickup truck was parked in the circular drive in front of the rental cabins. Nathan Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава and Addie were already back home.

According to the map, the road in front of the Nichols place encircled Brody’s Peak. A small logging road cut through the state forest that bordered both Aldwin’s land and the area I’d explored earlier, behind the roadblock.

Looking for the logging Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава road, I drove past the farm, the cabins, and a WELCOME. BRODY’S PEAK STATE FOREST sign. The country road continued up the hill. After negotiating a hairpin turn, I spotted the logging road. I turned onto it but parked a few yards in from the main highway. The Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава dirt road was too deeply rutted for my low-slung car to manage, so I had to make my way back to the meadow on foot.

Since I wasn’t interested in exploring the forest itself, I decided to leave the logging trail. As I trekked uphill toward the meadow Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава, I мейд sure I kept the paved road in sight. The last thing I needed was to get myself lost and become the subject of a mountain rescue.

As I neared the meadow, the trees thinned but were replaced by stands of dense brush. To my right Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава I spotted the gleam of sun on metal. Trooper cars, I realized. At the same moment I heard the voices of the state police officers manning the roadblock.

As they chatted companionably, I managed to approach unnoticed. I moved as quietly as possible, watching where I stepped, careful not to tread Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава on any fallen branches.

With the troopers distracted I decided I could risk a more careful inspection of the meadow. Bess said that pieces of metal like the one she’d found were all over the place. If I found more of them, maybe I’d be able Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава to figure out what they were.

Hugging the shadows of the pines, I crept forward. From the shelter of the brush and trees I saw the glint of something shiny in the grass. To reach it I’d have to crawl beneath the police tape—and hope the Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава troopers were still distracted by their own conversation.

I took a deep breath and was about to kneel down, when to my left something rustled in the brush.

I froze. Had the troopers followed me?

The rustling grew louder, and a pungent odor wafted in my direction. Heart pounding, I Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава turned around...

And found myself face-to-face with a huge black bear.

Unusual Suspects

I gaped at the bear. The bear gaped back.

We both froze.

He stood so still, he resembled one of his stuffed relatives at the River Heights Natural History Museum. His nose twitched Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава, though: a clear reminder he was no more stuffed than I was from Mars. And he smelled awful, like a person who hadn’t bathed for a year.

As the bear sized me up, I almost hoped a UFO would materialize and abduct me!

Vanishing into thin air apparently Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава also appealed to the bear, because at that moment it bolted away, crashing like a runaway semi through the brush. I bolted in the opposite direction, making an even bigger racket.

I tore back toward the logging trail, with no thought of evading the troopers. I heard them laughing Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава above the sound of my panicky footsteps. Obviously they’d heard the ruckus in the woods. “Guess a bear spooked someone. Probably one of those campers,” one voice said.

“Should we go check it out?” a second trooper asked.

“Nope. The bear did it for us,” the first voice answered. “Doubt they Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава’ll be snooping around up here again.”

They were so busy laughing, they didn’t even bother to look my way as I ran toward the logging trail.

I was halfway up the trail before I let myself slow down. I was pretty sure I had set some new Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава world record for a through-the-forest dash, and I was still breathing hard when I got back to my car.

A welcoming committee was waiting for me, consisting of Mayor Brody, a state trooper, and, oddly enough, Izzy. Apparently my attempt to lead her on a Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава wild goose chase back to Winnie’s hadn’t worked. Her cameraman, Frankie Lee, was with her. He held a video camera on his shoulder and was already filming.

“Nancy, are you okay?” Izzy asked. She sounded concerned, but she motioned to Frankie to keep the camera rolling Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава.

“I’m okay,” I said, brushing my hair off my face. “I just had a run-in with a bear.”

“Ah, a bear,” she said. “This is bear country. But you know that already.”

Mayor Brody cleared his throat. “You’re lucky that’s all you ran into.” He looked more Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава annoyed than worried.

“As opposed to aliens?” I shot back. I was coming down from a serious adrenaline rush, and my patience was wearing thin.

“Both Nichols and his dog have been abducted,” the mayor snapped. “Clearly, something dangerous and out of the ordinary is going on in this town Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава.”

All too aware this sequence was being filmed, I tried to tone down my response. “Yes, I’m aware of that. Which, by the way, is why I was in the woods.” I turned to the trooper. “Have you searched this area for something other than Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава signs of space invaders? Has it occurred to anyone that Aldwin and his dog might be the victims of foul play of the human kind?”

The trooper looked insulted. “We know how to do our job, Ms. Drew. We’re always on the lookout for illegal campers, but we haven’t found Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава any recently, or even signs that they’ve been up here. All we’ve turned up lately are more of those tracks, like the ones we found at Mr. Nichols’s farm.”

“You found tracks like the ones in the kennel? Here, in the woods?” This was news Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава to me.

“Not in the woods,” Mayor Brody said, “but in the meadow. Not that we owe you an explanation.”

The state policeman looked grim. “You, miss, had no right to bypass that roadblock and traipse around on your own up here.”

“I had permission,” I said Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава, resenting being scolded.

“You weren’t given free range,” the mayor said.

“Sorry, Ms. Drew,” the trooper interjected. “The situation has grown more dangerous over the past twenty-four hours. With folks vanishing into thin air, we’re tightening our security. No one’s allowed up in this area, and that includes Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава you.”

“But Captain Greene said—”

“He’s been overruled,” the mayor told me.

I wondered by whom. Part of me wanted to press the point, but I was still too shaken up from my encounter with the bear to argue. Besides, I didn’t like the Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава idea of Izzy filming Nancy versus the Mayor. “Okay” was all I answered.

“I’m going back to the inn,” I told the film crew as I got into the car. “You can follow me there or not, your choice. You can hang around outside my room, or find something better Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава to do while I hit the shower.” I slammed the car door and drove off.

I arrived back at the inn still peeved and with the stench of bear in my nostrils. But a hot shower followed by a generous dousing of Bess’s aromatherapy body lotion Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава did a great deal to cheer me.

I came out of the bathroom and found George putting a file folder and CDs into her knapsack. Her laptop was open on the dresser. “You look better,” she remarked, looking up as I reached for my lucky blue sweater.

“I feel like a Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава new woman!” I told her as I finished dressing, then stashed Bess’s souvenirs and the maple syrup on top of the wardrobe.

George grinned. “You should have worn that earlier. Maybe it would have kept away the bear.”

“Or the aliens,” I laughed. I showed George Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава the typewriter case I’d bought for Ned at the Antique Attic.

She eyed it approvingly. “He’ll love it,” she said. “Too bad it’s too heavy for my laptop.”

“You’d probably start a trend,” I said, looking for a place to stow it. Finally I settled for Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава the top of the wardrobe next to Bess’s souvenirs.

“What’s happening with Winnie’s website?” I asked.

“All done!” George answered. “I finished tweaking it. Now when people гугл restaurants in Vermont, hers will be right there in the top two or three.” George slipped into her moccasins Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава and got up and stretched. “Better yet, I installed enough high-powered software to safeguard her computer from all but genius hackers. When we get back to the café, I’ll adjust the security settings for her broadband connection. One reason she got hacked is that she hadn Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава’t secured her wireless network.”

“What in the world does that mean?” I asked.

“I’ll show you,” George said. She turned on her laptop. After it booted up, a little window opened, informing us that other wireless networks were in the vicinity. George clicked her mouse again. “This is Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава a list of networks within range of the gizmo that lets me connect wirelessly to the Internet—it’s called a router,” she explained. I noticed each network had a name, ranging from arbitrary numbers and characters, to nicknames to real names. Some of the names were followed Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава by the icon of a padlock; others weren’t.

“Some are labeled ‘unsecured,’” I noticed.

George nodded. “Right. Newbie users don’t realize that leaving their networks open means that anyone in the neighborhood can use their service, and with even minimal know-how someone can hack into their machine—even Unidentified Friendly Object 4 глава into their e-mail.”

“That can’t be legal,” I objected.


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