I’d been on the couch at VA with Meg and Terry Petronius when the front window exploded with a sound like an atomic bomb.

The three of us screamed and fell to the floor in a tangled mess, covering our heads. Then tires squealed out on the road and I crawled rapidly across the rug, stood up and poked my head out the gaping hole in the window. Far up the road to the north, small red taillights disappeared into the night.

It wasn’t especially hot that evening, but I realized I was sweating profusely. As Meg called out, “I’ll call the cops!” I wiped the sweat from my brow, then checked around the yard outside to be sure nobody was lurking there.

I headed back across the room and came upon a brick lying on the floor. Actually, it was half a brick, a very ancient model, a thick dollop of mortar clinging to one side. I picked it up and looked at it, then put it back where it’d been.

Terry was still on the floor, but now her legs were drawn up against her chest, arms around her knees, rocking back and forth. I’d seen the kids at VA do that when they were especially upset about something.

“Hey, Terry,” I said, “it’s okay, they’re gone.”

She looked up at me and screamed. Meg, just coming back into the room, cried, “What? What?”

I shrugged helplessly and Meg said, “There’s blood on your face!”

“There is?” I said. Then I remembered wiping my brow. “It’s just from my hands,” I said, holding them up.

Meg rushed over and grabbed my wrists and studied my hands closely. “You must have a hundred glass splinters in there!” she said. “But never mind, I’ll get the first aid kit.”

When Meg returned she sat down at the end of the couch and turned on the lamp, then pulled me down beside her and drew my hand across her body into the light, studying the damage. Using tweezers, she began plucking little pieces of glass out of my palm and dumping them in the ashtray.

I glanced over at Terry, who had gotten up off the floor and was now on the couch, and said, “You okay?”

She looked over at me with the kind of wild eyes you see on girls in horror movies. “It’s only a matter of time,” she said in a horror-movie voice, “before they kill us all!”

“It’s just a broken window,” I pointed out.

“Oh, you think this is the first time this’s happened?” Terry said. “Think again. Last winter they fired a shotgun at the boys’ window!”

Startled, I began to stand up but Meg yanked me back down, saying, “Terry’s got a bug up her butt.”

While Meg and Terry were shooting nasty looks at each other, headlights washed across the room.

“Cops,” Meg said. “I wonder who they sent this time?”

I heard a car door slam, then an almost military tread coming down the hall. That didn’t sound like the footsteps of what I was expecting – a lazy rural deputy who would be as bad at catching crooks as I was at flirting.

I’d just started to crane my neck to get a look at the guy when Terry cried, “Vaughn!” She leapt to her feet, raced across the room and threw herself into his arms.

The guy was obviously startled by this – he held her loosely, like she might be somebody’s daughter, and maneuvered her into Rich’s chair.

The cop named Vaughn looked less like a rumpled country deputy and more like a storm trooper with his highly polished leather and brass and sharply creased uniform. His insignia indicated he was with the state police.

The guy nodded to Meg, shot me a suspicious cop stare, then walked over toward the broken window. Along the way he paused at the brick, looked down at it, but didn’t pick it up. As he peered out the window he said, “Anybody see anything?

“No,” Meg and Terry said at the same time.

“Might have been an old model Ford pickup,” I said, “judging from the small taillights.”

The cop turned and gave me a slow look, then headed back across the room. “I’ll make a report,” he said.

“Wow,” said Meg, “I feel safer already!”

As the cop headed down the hall Terry leaped out of Rich’s chair and called out, “Vaughn, wait! Can you give me a ride home?”

As they left I said to Meg, “Is something going on between those two?”

Meg rolled her eyes and said, “They dated for a while last winter but Vaughn broke it off. Terry can’t seem to get it through her head that she’s been dumped.”

Eventually, Rich Bolotin returned from Montpelier, humming a merry tune as he came down the hall – he’d probably had a couple of snorts at the banquet. He entered the front room, smiled at us, then saw the broken window and the blood drained from his face.

Twenty minutes later Rich and I were solemnly taping newspapers across the window to keep the bugs out, and Meg was tearing strips of masking tape off a roll and handing them to us.

Meg said, “Look, Rich, I know you’re trying to be fair to the people up here, and I don’t even blame them for resenting places like VA. But this isn’t about resentment. The jerks who are attacking us are serious creeps and they’re dangerous!”

“I know,” Rich said, shaking his head.

“And we’re like sitting ducks out here in the country! We’re completely helpless! It’s only a matter of time before someone at VA gets hurt – or worse.”

“I know, I know,” Rich said, looking miserable.

I said, “Guys, I’m just the new kid, but I don’t understand why we have to be so helpless. These creeps might think twice if somebody from VA was shooting back at them!”

Rich looked even more miserable.

“I’ve got a hunting rifle back at college,” I continued. “Why don’t I go get it?”

Meg’s eyes went wide and she looked from me to Rich. Rich stared thoughtfully up at the ceiling, rubbing his chin. Then he said, “Maybe that’s not a terrible idea.”

Next up: VA, Part 12

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