Chapter 4 of Carbon Run features a brief reunion of Bill Penn and his daughter Anne at their rural property near the town of Brier Valley, Ore. Bill is now on the run, and local law enforcement knows it. The question is, will the sheriff’s department help the “bessies,” the slang term for agents of the Bureau of Environmental Security (BES)?
Deputy Sheriff Gary Schmidt sat in his patrol car at the fire command post. He sipped from a cup of water, and he listened to Inspector Kilel, who stood in front of him, her eyes implacable.
“You’re sure Penn was last seen heading in the direction of the fire,” Kilel said.
“Yes, ma’am.” Schmidt didn’t like Kilel, with her ramrod straight, by the book demeanor. She was sharp and probably smarter than he was, he admitted to himself. But she didn’t know the people of Brier Valley like he did. “When I heard the bulletin on his escape, I was near his property, so I stopped there. I figured he might show up.”
“You said you confronted him?”
“No ma’am.” Schmidt dared not break eye contact with Kilel. His instincts told him to say as little as possible, even stretch the truth a bit, if that’s what it took. “I called out to him, but he disappeared into the woods. It was too dark to follow. Backup was a ways away.”
“Officer Schmidt, how well do you know Penn?” Kilel’s face suggested a hidden, unsympathetic agenda.
“I know him, in a professional sense.”
“Would he kill himself?”
“I don’t think it’s likely. There’s his daughter, you see.”
“Still, desperation can make someone do almost anything, especially if they’re on the run. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if the fire caught him.”
“The mop-up crews have found no bodies,” Kilel said. “But they did find a deployed fire shelter that doesn’t belong to the crews.”
Schmidt looked at Kilel blankly.
“Officer, Mr. Penn is a dangerous man. His carelessness has doomed a species to extinction. He is a genocidal killer.”
“It certainly seemed to be an accident.”
“So much of environmental history is about the so-called ‘accidental’ destruction of species. That time is long gone, officer. I will find Mr. Penn, and he will be called to account.” Kilel’s eyes shined like ice. “The fire may have killed him, but I think he’s alive. Where would he go?”
Schmidt said nothing. He watched Kilel study her tablet, scrolling through a document with her index finger.
Kilel’s mood relaxed, and she spoke, though more to herself than Schmidt. “He could come back, looking for his daughter. But he’s smart enough to figure out that a fire might cover his tracks. He’ll need money, and the only work he knows is on ships, and finding a job on a jammer would take him further away. He’s going west.”
Schmidt let his eyes drift to the earth at his feet.
“There’s a half-dozen small ports on the coast. What do you think, officer?”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Schmidt shrugged and leaned against his cruiser. “I’m just a country cop.”
What do you think? Does Schmidt know more than he’s telling?