They separated us as soon as the Jo Daviess County sheriff deputies arrived. They took her to the Midwest Medical Center, where they gave her three stitches just to the left of her eyebrow and a neurological exam to test for concussion symptoms. Fortunately, her memory and concentration, strength and sensation, vision, hearing, balance, coordination, and reflexes were just fine.
They brought me to the Public Safety Building just behind the courthouse in Galena. The chief deputy was furious that I had the audacity to bring a concealed weapon into his county. I reminded him that I had a permit to carry. He reminded me that “this is Illinois, not goddamn Minnesota.”
The questions came fast and furious, and it took a while before I was able to explain that Collin Baird was the “unidentified suspect” wanted in Hennepin County for the rape and murder of Irene Rogers and the criminal sexual assault of Anne Rehmann. By then he could have easily slipped into Iowa or Wisconsin, which would have made quick capture that much more unlikely. The deputies sent out their alerts and bulletins just the same.
“Why didn’t you tell me about Baird?” Chief Hasselback asked.
“I didn’t realize it was him until I saw the photograph,” I said. “I think that’s why he came out of hiding, because he knew his mother was showing me the photograph. Otherwise, who knows…”
“What was he doing down here?”
“The Hennepin County deputies think I might have shot him the other day, but not bad enough to knock him down. Where do you go when you’re hurt?”
“You’re a guy who likes playing with guns, is that what you’re telling me?” the chief deputy wanted to know. “Some kinda poster child for the NRA?”
I suggested a way the chief deputy could entertain himself. He told me that a few days in county jail on a weapons charge would give me plenty of time to show him how it was done. By then the assistant county attorney had arrived. He didn’t like me any better than the chief deputy, yet he was more inclined to send me home than send me to jail since I never actually fired said weapon. In the end, it was Chief Hasselback who tipped the scales in my favor. Just the same, the chief deputy confiscated my Beretta. He told me if I didn’t like it I could sue to get it back. We both knew that wasn’t going to happen, though. Cops don’t sue cops, ex or otherwise.
“Why are you busting my chops?” I asked him.
“Because we haven’t had a killing in this county in over eight years.”
Several hours passed before Nina was transported from the hospital to the Public Safety Building. I had no doubt they had already asked her the same questions they had asked me and compared the answers. They kept us apart just the same.
Calls were made to Lieutenant Pelzer. I don’t know if he vouched for me or not. I do know that he thanked the chief deputy for his efforts in identifying Collin Baird and promised cooperation since they both were now looking for the same suspect. The chief deputy seemed pleased by that.
The ACA wanted to know if Baird killed his mother by accident or on purpose. Chief Hasselback wondered what difference it made. The ACA said it was the difference between a second-degree murder charge and first-degree manslaughter. The Chief thought it was a straight-up accident.
“He was shooting at McKenzie, and Mrs. Baird stepped in the way,” she said.
I wasn’t so sure.
“In just a few minutes she gave us a lot of information that Baird didn’t want us to have,” I said. “Who knows what she might have given us had she lived?”
“Do you actually believe he murdered his own mother?” Hasselback asked.
“He wouldn’t be the first.”
The chief deputy suggested I was just saying that because I didn’t want to take responsibility for what happened. He wasn’t entirely wrong, although, damn, how was this my fault?
Eventually Nina and I were reunited. We were told we could return to our hotel. The chief deputy said he wanted us to stay in town because he might have more questions. I told him that I was driving home to Minnesota the first thing in the morning. The chief deputy said, in that case, I could spend the night in lockup. I told him if that happened I would lawyer up and then he knew what he could do with his questions. Once again Chief Hasselback came between me and a bad outcome. I thanked her when the three of us were in the parking lot.
“Are you always this hard to get along with?” she asked me.
“I thought Collin Baird was just another one of Jax Abana’s victims like all the others,” I told her. “It hadn’t occurred to me that he might be involved somehow in what was happening until I saw the photograph. If it had…”
“If it had, Mrs. Baird might still be alive.”
“Something like that.”
“It really isn’t your fault.”
“Feels like it, though.”
I offered to shake her hand. She pulled it back. She had washed—several times—yet there were still bloodstains beneath her fingernails. I took both of her hands in mine just the same and gave them a squeeze.
“Take care, Chief.”
“You, too.” And then, “Ms. Truhler? You did real good.”
Nina was standing on the passenger side of the Lexus.
“All I did was stay out of the way,” she said.
“Without a whimper or a curse,” Hasselback said. “You did good.”