Wounded Earth
again.
    Merging the car with some difficulty into rush hour traffic, Larabeth was startled when her purse beeped politely. Since the modern world had forced her to get a cell phone, she'd been accessible to anyone who wanted a piece of her time. It was no small wonder that her cell phone number was a more closely held secret than her bra size.
    Larabeth told herself she would ignore the call even as she fumbled with the catch on her purse. She was lying to herself and she knew it. It could be an important client with a lucrative contract in hand. Or it could be Babykiller, calling to mess with her mind. She answered the phone and it gave a contented beep.
    “Hi, Doc. I'll wager you're not surprised to hear from me today.”
    Larabeth's hand trembled on the steering wheel, an undesirable condition given that she was traveling above the speed limit in the center lane of an unfamiliar highway. She couldn't remember how to activate the speaker function, so she tried to free her right hand to drive by tucking the phone between her shoulder and chin. No dice. Its sleek, expensive design guaranteed an immediate slide down her chest. She had to either control the car with her left hand or hang up on Babykiller. She gritted her teeth and got the car under control.
    “Larabeth, dear, are you all right? You're usually so chatty,” cooed the voice in her ear.
    “Get to the point, Babykiller. You didn't call me to ask about my health. You called to gloat over the deaths of fifty innocent creatures who never did anything to you.”
    “Oh, but if their suffering had meaning, if their rotting carcasses sent a valuable message, wouldn't you think they died for a purpose?”
    “What a pretty speech,” she said. “Why didn't you leave a note with all those murdered animals? As it is, the whole country knows that somebody's upset, but they don't know who and they don't know why.” She looked desperately for a chance to get off the freeway and devote her full attention to this conversation. Predictably, she approached a construction zone and traffic slowed to a crawl.
    “Now come, Larabeth, how can you accuse me of a crime that took place simultaneously in five time zones? I am not, after all, Santa Claus.” His laugh was humorless. “I've had my eye on CNN this morning. I must say that the culprits have a sense of humor. The eagle's nest on your friend Langlois' front stoop—why, the only thing more perfect would have been a spotted owl carcass at the Audubon Society's Oregon headquarters.”
    “Say what you like. I think you're behind this. If I'm right, you have a fairly large organization. What is it, Babykiller? The Mafia? Some kind of drug cartel?” She spotted an opening in the right lane and steered into it. “I've never heard of organizations like those doing this kind of grandstanding. They usually concentrate on making money. So maybe you have your own organization.”
    “You're a logical woman, too logical to jump to such unsupported conclusions.”
    “Humor me. So, if I assume that you're part of a nationwide organization, maybe bigger, and it's not the Mafia and it's not one of the better-known drug cartels, I also have to assume that you hold a pretty influential position. Maybe the top one. Otherwise, you wouldn't have been able to put your twisted ideals into action this morning. I can follow that line of reasoning.”
    “I'm glad you can follow it, Doc, because you've lost me completely.”
    Larabeth at last reached an exit. Praying that it wouldn't dump her into a boarded-up, grafittied, high-crime area, she guided the car down the exit ramp. She pulled into the first parking lot.
    “I've got some ideas about you, Babykiller, and about your motives. I'm beginning to understand how you pulled off the animal-slashings this morning.”
    Larabeth paused, suddenly tired. She leaned her head on the steering wheel and continued. “I don't understand one thing, though. Why are you calling me? You gave forty-nine

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