Journeys West - Chapter 9 - Panties and Hose

Chapter 9 - Panties and Hose

By Marina Kelly and Monica Rose
Editor: Qmodo

Mary woke slowly, the night's sleep feeling more like a short nap. She grabbed the first thing in her closet that fit her mood, it just happened to be one of her favorites. No tomboy look today, she wanted Pat to see her at her most appealing. It was a light blue cotton sundress with a sweetheart neck and banded empire waist, with ruffles and pleats that added the perfect feminine texture. It had an airy feel to it that complimented the bright sunlight shining through her window. A quick stop at the vanity to put on the barest of makeup and she was ready to tackle the day.

She stepped outside, the cloudless sky was a brilliant azure and made her squint, the air was crisp and fresh she shivered in her light dress. She hoped that the sheriff had let Pat go already this morning; she really did not want to deal with the man's arrogance. But her previous contacts with the man told her that he didn't do anything as a favor to anyone. The sheriff struck her as someone who was angry at the rest of the world and lashed out any way he could.

So...as much as she dreaded it, her first stop was the sheriff's office. She was surprised to find that there was a deputy on duty instead of the sheriff himself. She had thought that there was just the single lawman in town. The deputy was as polite as the sheriff was arrogant. He told her that Pat had been released a couple of hours after he had been brought in. He confided that he thought the sheriff didn't want to have to be in early to sign the paperwork.

Mary thanked him with a smile and headed back out. On the way to Pat's house, she passed the pub and saw his truck where it had been parked last night. The bar was still closed so she drove on. As she pulled to a stop in front of the house, she could see the front door was partly open.

She stepped up onto the porch and she could see that the house beyond was unlit. The darkness of the house and the quietness of the morning combined to promote an eerie sensation of foreboding. If this were a movie, this would be where the theatergoers would be shouting that she shouldn't go in. But this wasn't a thriller movie, only Pat's house. He had either neglected to close the door securely or he might be in need of help.

Even though her better judgment said that she should call for help, she knew she would be thoroughly embarrassed if this was just an innocent mistake. Besides, the likelihood of this being the result of foul play was remote. Regardless, Mary carefully pushed the door open with her toe; the squeak of the hinges sent chills down her spin. Without entering the house, she stood rooted in place. There was no answer when she called Pat's name loudly.

Stepping into the entryway, the floorboards squeaked announcing her every step, she could tell that it was an older home. Not nearly old enough to be a landmark, but it had probably been built by the grandchildren or great grandchildren of the original settlers. As a result, some of the rooms she looked into were fairly large while others were smaller than she would have expected.

The curtained windows let in the growing morning light and Mary could see that everything appeared to be neat and tidy. The fact that there did not appear to be a burglar present comforted her and she relaxed. The floors had a tendency to squeak when she walked. Because she had not heard any telltale signs of movement elsewhere in the house, she felt certain that she must be alone in the house. But where was Pat? Was he still locked up and someone had broken in here? If so, to what end and why hadn't they closed the door when they left?

The only room she had not checked as yet was the master bedroom at the back of the house. Standing in the living room and looking down the hallway, Mary could see that the door was closed properly. Trusting to her feeling that there was no danger, she walked quietly down the hallway. Surprisingly, the hardwood floor made no noise.

She opened the door slowly and saw that the room was shrouded in darkness. The heavy drapes at the windows shut out much of the light, she stood at the door peering into the room. The light was dim, the air around her was chilled by the nighttime temperature drop, despite that fact she was sweating from fear and anxiety. She tried to take hold of her emotions.

She could only make out shapes at first. The room was obviously a bedroom dominated by an old four poster bed. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness she could tell that someone was on the bed. She softly called Pat's name and received no response. She could only assume that Pat had gotten home at some point and had crashed on the bed.

Not wanting to go pawing at a sleeping man in the dark, she summoned all her courage and opted to turn the light on first to announce her presence. She flipped on the light switch she had found and the room was immediately brightly lit. Surprisingly, the room had a feminine flare to it, walls painted in light pastels. One wall had a picture of a mother and a baby in a stroller. Not the masculine bastion she envisioned Pat living in. Then she remembered Pat saying he had taken the house over from his mother, so she assumed he had never gotten around to redecorating.

She could hardly believe her eyes, the person on the bed was Pat. She was horrified to see that he had been stripped to the skin and was tied spread-eagle to the four corners of the bed. She saw the clothes he had been wearing last night beside the bed, casually thrown in a pile. She could see that the shirt had been ripped and bloodied. She stood frozen in shock for a moment or two before she moved forward.

Before she attempted to free him, she looked into his face. He appeared to be unconscious, but she could see that his chest was moving. He had been gagged with a wad of cloth, so he could not have answered her calls if he had been awake. It was apparent that he was starting to wake up because his eyes clenched at the bright light and his head shook. When he started to pull at his bonds, she shook herself back into action and began trying to release him.

As she worked, she couldn't help but look at Pat's naked body. It had occupied some of her dreams last night, but the reality was somehow much better. She knew that she should respect his privacy and modesty, but found the temptation to be too strong. It never occurred to her how she would feel if their situations were reversed. She did have the good grace to blush deeply as she sneaked one quick voyeuristic glance at his flaccid manhood, positioned below rock hard abs.

Finally scolding herself mentally, she did look away to find something to cover Pat up with. She knew that these images would come back to consume her later though. Seeing a blanket on the floor next to the bed, she carefully draped it over him. She consoled herself with the knowledge that he would probably never realize that she had seen him in all his glory. When he moaned, she saw that the pillow where his head lay was smudged with dried blood. His face was bruised, swollen and covered with blood too. She reached for one corner of the blanket thinking it was her duty to closely examine his body to check for more injuries. She stopped herself when she realized her motivation was not being completely altruistic. She very briefly wrestled with her conscience, wanting to take one more peek, but she stopped herself.

@ @ @ @ @

The painful throbbing in his head woke him up. After a moment or two with it, he wished that he could escape back into sleep. As the pounding settled down, memory started to come back to him.

He'd walked home from the jail. Thankfully the sheriff had let him out about 3 rather than keep him over night as was the normal procedure for drunk and disorderly. Pat could only speculate on his reason; he assumed it was because the man did not want to be there first thing in the morning to release him. As he exited the steps of the jail, he found the night air to be peaceful and slight wind blew in from the west, the moon was in its waning phase but in the pollution free air still provided sufficient light to see. That was one of the things that he loved about Laramie, there was none of the noise and chaos that was always around in larger towns and cities.

He hadn't bothered to ask for a ride back to the pub for his truck. He knew what kind of response that request would get, so he decided to pick it up in the morning when he could get a ride from Mary. Thinking about Mary made him smile. She was easy-going and smart. She wasn't like the typical girls from the cities you expect to meet. He thought that she would fit right in here in Laramie.

Between his dreams of Mary and fumbling for his house keys, he never even heard whoever glided up behind him. As he turned into his yard, his head had exploded into a flash of pain before the lights went out.

With consciousness came the realization that he was tied down with something stuffed in his mouth. While the gag seemed to be just a rag, something held it in place so that he couldn't force it out and yell for help. The pain in the stretched muscles of his arms and legs was growing and would probably rival his headache before long.

He vaguely recalled briefly waking up sometime during the night. The room was pitch-black but he could sense that he was in his own bedroom. The one he had been living in for years, once he had been able to come to terms with the fact that it had been his mother's bedroom. He could sense a sweet, flowery odor, but he didn't know what it was. It made him think about how his mother used to smell.

Pulling at the restraints that held him tight proved to be a mistake. Between the pain that was communicated back to his head and the throbbing that was already present, Pat was unable to deal with it and he had passed out again.

When he woke up again, bright light made him unwilling to open his eyes. Even with them tightly closed, the light hurt and his headache seemed to intensify. He could feel a blanket on his body which also called attention to the fact that he was nude.

There was the sound of movement in the room that told him that he wasn't alone. Tied down as he was, the realization hit him of just how helpless he was. The image of yesterday's fire jumped into his mind. Pat's heart raced, he inhaled deeply in an attempt to calm himself. He needed a plan and he needed it fast. He searched his mind for a way out of this mess, but could not come up with any brilliant notions.

He jerked with surprise when someone touched his face. With the light in his eyes, he couldn't look to see who it was without being dazzled into blindness again.

"It's me Pat," Mary voice came. She moved the strap holding the gag in his mouth and pulled out the wad of cloth. "Are you all right?"

The first thing that Pat did was to take a deep breath. "Thank you," he rasped. He blinked, trying to get his eyes to adjust to the light. "I think that I'm okay, but I have a headache like you wouldn't believe." He closed his eyes again as another pulse went through his head.

Mary was already working on freeing his arms and legs. It took her a few moments to loosen the knots, the ropes were not actually rope, but turned out to be ladies' hosiery. While she worked, Pat realized his state of undress and he stayed still to avoid uncovering himself. Once his hands were free, he pulled the blanket up to his chin. His actions were not lost to Mary as she worked. Seeing his attempt at modesty, Mary couldn't help but try to lighten the mood by teasing him.

"Uh…It's a bit late for that, I'm afraid. I'm the one who covered you with that blanket." She didn't try to meet his eyes as she finished with his leg. Her blush lit up the top of her ears as if they were on fire.

Movement caused other parts of Pat's body to remind him of their presence at that moment. With a mumbled 'Thank You', Pat levered himself to his feet and he staggered to the bathroom. While she waited, Mary examined the gag she had removed from Pat's mouth and the stockings that had been used to restrain him. She was studying them intently when Pat made his way back to the bed. He had the blanket wrapped securely around his waist.

"Mary, did you see what's written on my chest?"

"I saw something, but I'm not sure what it said. I was working to get you free. Let me get a better look." She stood in front of him while he remained seated on the bed. "It says 'drop it, or else' and appears to be written in lipstick. It's an interesting shade too."

Pat frustratedly remarked, "Panties, nylons and lipstick, I'm starting to detect a pattern."

"That's very astute of you Sherlock," Mary said playfully. She held up the gag from his mouth. "This is a pair of really good silk panties. And these," she held up the hosiery that had held him tied to the bed, "these are real silk stockings, not the cheap mass-produced nylon that you see today. They’re so good that you would have to work hard to put a run in them. It’s a good thing I came along."

Mary dropped to the floor and began looking under the bed.

"What are you looking for?"

"Panties, stockings, and lipstick," Mary answered with a playful smile. "I'm detecting a theme here and I was just looking for your garter belt, it has to be here somewhere." She rocked back onto her knees and looked up at him with grin.

"You don't strike me as the type to wear high-end lingerie. Is there something you want to tell me?"

Pat could see that she was teasing and tried to return the smile as he shook his head. "I don't know where they came from. They aren't my style. I wear boxers, not briefs."

When he winced from the pain of moving his head, Mary immediately lost interest in teasing him. His reaction reminded her of the blood she had seen on the pillow. Turning back to Pat, she saw a large area of matted blood and hair on the back of this head.

"Sit still," she commanded. She took a seat next to him and probed the back of his head. Beneath the blood and hair, she could feel a large lump in the center of the mess. When she touched it, Pat reacted to the stabbing pain with a hiss.

Out of nowhere, he asked, "Do you smell perfume?"

She nodded. "I thought that I did, but it is rather faint."

"It's all I could smell for a while," Pat said. "It's kind of a sweet smell."

Mary sniffed at the silk stockings and looked thoughtful. "You're right. It's a delicate scent; but I'm not much of an expert on perfumes. It's either from a scented sachet in a lady's lingerie drawer or it has been sprayed on at some point.

"I'll bet that someone here in town could help. But, that doesn't matter right now. You've had a serious blow to the head. Let me get something to clean away some of this blood and then I'm going to call for help."

Mary went to the bathroom and returned with some wet towels. She tried to carefully clean the blood away from Pat's scalp, but didn't make much progress. She did succeed in cleaning away some of the less dried material over the lump and could see the raised area on his scalp. As she parted his hair in the area of the bump, she took notice of a strange looking bruise. She took her phone out of her purse and took a photograph of the contusion.

As she returned the phone to her purse, a flash of yellow in a fold of the sheets caught her eye. She carefully lifted out a pearl earring in a gold setting. It looked vaguely familiar to her, but it appeared to be a cheap piece of jewelry that could be found at any discount jewelry counter.

"I'm assuming that this is not yours," Mary said with a smile.

Pat squinted at the yellow piece of metal and shook his head. "I can't say that it looks familiar at all."

"It would seem your attacker wants to point the finger at a woman as the culprit. Are there any angry ex-girlfriends in your past?"

Pat grudgingly answered, "Yeah a few, but none capable of this. I was attacked at my front steps. My lord, whoever did this had to be strong enough to drag me up the steps and get me into bed. I don't know any female bodybuilders. Why do you say that they are trying to frame someone?"

Mary smiled slightly. "Because this is for a pierced ear. A woman would know if it had been pulled out, mainly because it would hurt like a son-of-a-bitch. Also, the shape of the hoop makes it virtually impossible for it to slip out of her ear." She shook her head. "No. This was planted to either make it look like a woman did this or that a different woman is responsible.

"Let’s look at this seriously. I’m not a bodybuilder but I can kick butt if I have too or wanted too bad enough. Now think, this is ranch country and most women around here aren’t wimps. Even Liz is a firefighter and that takes strength and she has training in moving an unconscious person. How many women are firefighters?”

"Four.” He replied.

"And how many have you dated?"

"All of them...but this is a small town and only once or twice, nothing serious.” He rushed to explain. "Look I have gone out with most of the women around here. It’s a small town.”

"No judgments from me. I'd like to figure out who might have done this to you, but I think that we need to report it. Besides, that lump on your head could be bad."

Pat left her to step into the bathroom while she called 911. She was pleased when it was answered immediately, not sure if Laramie was large enough for its own dispatch center. It turned out that the local hospital was also the dispatch center.

"Patrick got hurt?" The woman who answered the phone obviously knew who Pat was and was concerned about his well-being also. Did every woman in this town know who Pat was? Mary explained that it looked as if Pat had been attacked and that she thought that he needed medical attention.

"Darlin', the ambulance and Doctor Smith is already on its way. I'm paging the sheriff's office too."

She ended the call and closed her eyes in annoyance to hear that the officious jerk would probably be showing up. But this was a serious enough crime that he had to be willing to do his job...Especially with medical personnel arriving as part of the whole situation.

She called through the closed bathroom door and said, "They have an ambulance on the way. If you're going to take a shower, you had better hurry."

The door opened just enough for Pat to put his head out and he said, "You could help me in the shower to make sure that I don't fall." He had a devilish grin on his face as he made the invitation.

Blushing, she answered, "I'll stand by out here, but leave the door open a bit." Upping the ante somewhat she added, "We only have a few minutes before the ambulance gets here. Can you imagine the gossip around this town if the paramedics were to find us in the shower together?"

Pat grinned at her again and pulled his head back out of sight. She heard the shower come on and all she could think of at that moment was that she wanted more than a few minutes alone with this guy.

While he was cleaning up, Mary went out to the front of the house to look around. The house and trees kept the yard covered in shadows. Pat had said he was attacked on the walk so she started her search there. Looking around by the fence, she spied a softball-sized rock that had a dark stain on it. This would put him out whether it was wielded by a man or a woman, but it did not have any kind of mark or design like she had seen on the back of his head. She mentally marked its location but did not pick it up. The last thing she needed was to have the sheriff put the blame on her because she could have been the one holding the 'blunt instrument'.

She could see the parallel lines across the grass where Pat had been dragged. His body appeared to have obscured any footprints that his assailant must have left. By the time she went back into the house, Pat had settled on the sofa in the living room.

"How do you feel?" she asked.

"Not bad, my arms and legs are loosening up. I took a couple of Advil. The back of my head didn't care for the shampoo, but I got all the blood out. I don’t think it’s too bad and there isn’t any more bleeding. Only my head and chin really hurt now.”

She looked at the wound on his head and agreed that it wasn’t bleeding any more. The bruise was easier to see now and there was a very dark and distinctive circle.

It was only a few more minutes before they heard the siren of the ambulance. Mary met the doctor and his med tech at the door and pointed them to where Pat was seated. They immediately set to work looking him over. Mary stepped out on the deck-like porch to give them some privacy as they worked.

The doctor had been on the scene for almost ten minutes before the sheriff rolled up. Mary was glad that she wasn't depending upon this guy to save her life and she made a mental note to try to avoid those situations if she could help it. He levered himself out of the car and strolled over to the fence. He paused, scanning the sidewalk, yard, and the house. When he let his eyes rest on Mary he smiled.

"Well little lady," he said, his smile seeming to morph into a leer that made her feel somehow unclean. "Life has certainly become interesting since you rolled into town. What are you up to now?"

"I'm not involved in anything sheriff," she answered. "I was looking for Pat after last night and someone attacked him after you let him go this morning."

Royce raised his eyebrows at the veiled accusation and pulled a small notebook from his pocket. He proceeded to take Mary's entire story, giving an amused snort when she described how she had found Pat. She was embarrassed to have to describe Pat's situation, but it was important, so she had to tell it. At no time did he go into the house to look at where Pat had been tied or ask to see the restraints that had been used. He barely even gave the yard a second glance.

His indifferent attitude made Mary want to scream. She couldn't help but wonder where the man had gotten his training in law enforcement. Even a mall cop was more thorough than Sheriff Jackson. A crime had been committed right here in town and the man expected to investigate and enforce the law did not seem to care.

Before Mary could begin questioning Albert about his investigation techniques and how he planned to proceed, which would probably have gotten her into more trouble, the paramedic accompanying the doctor interrupted.

"We're going to take him in for observation, we need to be on the lookout for signs of a concussion." he said. He was speaking mainly to Mary, with just a glance at the sheriff. It was obvious the disdain the sheriff inspired in some people. It was a rather sharp contrast to how everyone seemed to like Pat.

The doctor and his assistant helped Pat out to the ambulance where he was forced to ride on the gurney. They pointed out that there was only room for one person to ride seated in the back of the vehicle. Mary watched with a barely concealed smile as Pat had to agree to ride in a reclining position on the rolling bed.

Once the ambulance was gone, the sheriff made his exit very quickly. It was obvious that he had only made an appearance to ensure that Pat was physically okay and to watch his departure for the hospital. The man made no effort to examine the house, yard, or surrounding area for any kinds of clues. He also exhibited no concern for securing Pat's home before he left, apparently expecting Mary to address that task.

Mary was happy that Pat had given her his keys so that she could get his car moved home from the pub so that she would be able to lock up the house as well. Before she left, she looked around the yard again.

The sun had risen above the trees and the yard was now bathed in dazzling sunlight. As she stepped carefully along the tracks where Pat had been dragged, something caught the sunlight. She bent to find the source and a round stone came into view. It was small enough that it could easily be lost, so she carefully pulled it from the grass. She held it up to the light and saw that it looked like a diamond...at least it glinted and sparkled like one. It was impossible in her mind that this stone was here by coincidence.

She already gone back into the house to gather the tissues that had been used to remove the lipstick from Pat's chest and the nylons that had been used to tie him up. Those pieces of evidence occupied plastic bags that she had in her purse. The diamond obviously did not belong here and it joined the other bags of evidence.

Everything that she had gathered had turned her purse into a rather unwieldy bundle, but she was lost as to what she was going to do with these all of the clues and evidence. The sheriff did not appear to be interested in doing anything to find out what really happened and she had no idea who could help her. All she knew was that everything needed to be protected until she could turn it over to someone responsible.

She sat behind the wheel lost in thought. It came to her that the message that had been scrawled across Pat's chest had been meant for her as much as it had been for him. Someone was becoming serious about not wanting them to learn more about the wagon train she was researching. Was her thesis worth the possibility of having Pat or herself hurt? She really did not know what to do.

Hoping that she would be able to discuss the whole situation with Pat at the hospital, she started the car up and headed out. She patted the lumpy purse in the seat beside her to reassure herself that Yolanda's journal was still with her. It had occurred to her that morning that it might be safer to keep it with her from now. Considering what was going on around them, she was glad that she had. It might even be safer to leave it with Pat at the hospital.

She was about ten minutes past her motel when she began having difficulty controlling the car. Steering seemed to be a chancy thing as the car movements were exaggerated as she moved the wheel. It almost felt like she was driving a clown car as it wove back and forth in her attempt to maintain control. Finally, the front wheels stopped responding to the steering wheel at all and the car aimed for side of the road.

She found herself holding the wheel in a death grip, her knuckles white with the strain and she was breathing in gasps. Wisely, she had let up on the gas as soon as she realized that there was a problem, but she was still moving pretty good when she tried to stop. Her foot was pressing down on the brake pedal so hard, it seemed like it could have bent under the force. Even with that, it took all her strength to pull the handbrake, which finally brought the car to full stop. Once she was finally stopped, she slipped the car into park before she was almost overcome with uncontrollable shaking.

Looking ahead, the roadside seemed to almost drop away as if she was sitting at the edge of a cliff.

By the time another vehicle happened to roll up to the car, Mary's heart had stopped pounding quite so hard and her breathing was approaching normal. She squeaked with surprise and would have stood straight up in fright when Liz knocked on the driver's window. She was probably going to have bruises across her thighs anyway from the way her legs had hit the steering wheel.

"Mary Sue! Are you okay?" Liz asked through the glass. Mary was shaking when she finally managed to get out of the car. She threw arms around Liz once she was standing. Mary Sue could feel that Liz was encased in a rigid frame of some sort, but it barely registered.

Liz could see Mary was in shock and that keeping her talking was best. "Are you all right? Come on! You need to sit down again!"

She led Mary back to her car and sat her down in the passenger seat. From that position, Mary could see that her beloved car had turned perpendicular to the road and was just feet from the ten-foot drop into the ditch beside the road. At the moment, it was just off the road and it spanned the shoulder.

Liz crouched in front of her and looked into her face intently. For once, the non-stop chatter that was so characteristic of her was gone. In its place was Liz, the fire fighter and rescue worker.

"It's okay, " Liz said in a calm voice, “Just breathe.” Getting a victim to relax was an important way to reduce any other injuries that they might have as well as help them to act as better witnesses or sources of important info during an emergency.

Mary's shockiness was becoming less pronounced and she was able to get a semblance of control in just a few minutes. It helped to have Liz talking to her. Any other time, Mary would have been amused at how Liz could talk about the restaurant, people in town, the sheriff, even about a new dress at Proctor's in town. Now, Liz's unruffled chatter helped her to calm down as Liz moved from one subject to another. Finally, Mary let out a long sigh and straightened up.

Looking into Liz's eyes, she smiled and said, "I'm back. I should be okay now. It was just a little scary there."

Liz stood up and looked over to Mary's car. "Scared of what? The fact that you almost drove your car into a drainage canal or that I surprised you while you were admiring the view?"

Mary's smile trembled a bit as she said, "Both, I guess."

"What happened here? I'm sure that you weren't planning to do this." Liz was watching Mary closely in case she needed to do something to help the girl or to keep her from hurting herself.

"Of course not!" Mary looked at Liz in surprise. How could she even think such a thing? "I was on my way over to the hospital when the steering just went out. It was lucky that I stomped on the brakes."

Liz nodded. "Yeah, I heard about Pat over my fire department monitor. I was on my way out there to the hospital too." She stopped for a minute and said, "Damn girl!" Things have been happening since you came to town! I don't think that I can ever go back to tumbleweed watching."

"I know. The sheriff said the same thing when he was at Pat's house this morning."

Liz grabbed Mary into a tight hug for a few moments. "Well I'm glad that you weren't hurt."

The feel of another person felt good to Mary right then and the tension of the morning drained away. As a result, she had to sit back down in the car before she collapsed into a boneless heap in front of Liz. As a firefighter, Mary's situation was not new to Liz. Once she was sure that Mary was dealing with nothing more serious than tension release, she got on her radio to call for a tow.

"Hiram! I know you're at the garage already! It's nine o'clock."

Hiram's lazy drawl came back to them, "Yeah Liz. What the hell do you want?"

"I got a car off the road out toward the hospital. Get your lazy ass out here and get it back to the garage!"

"I'll get to it in a little while Liz." Hiram's tone of voice made it clear that he really did not want to be bothered with another tow.

"Listen you!" Liz was almost stuttering with frustration as she struggled to come up with an appropriate insult. "Mary Sue's car almost went nose first into one the new canals the county dug us. She can't drive it and I don't want to leave it."

Hiram's voice had a new quality to it when he answered back, like a combination of renewed attention and interest. "Mary Sue? I'll be there in ten minutes!"

Liz hung up the radio and looked over at Mary. The color had returned to her face once she was relaxed, so Liz knew that she would be okay.

"Hiram will be here in a few minutes to take your car back to town. When he's done, we go check on Pat. Okay?"

Mary looked at Liz for a couple of seconds as things registered with her. It was obvious that Mary wasn't as far along dealing with her shock as Liz had thought but Mary looked okay. She nodded slowly to show that she understood.

Liz shook her shoulder slightly and said, "Come on kid! You're okay! Hiram will find out what happened with your car. He may be a jerk at times, but he is good at what he does."

They were interrupted as Hiram's truck pulled up behind Mary's car. He must have rushed to get here so quickly after Liz's call. Liz retrieved Mary's purse as Hiram made quick work of hitching up to the car. When Mary handed him the keys, he smiled back at her. She was sure that he meant it to be friendly, but it only looked creepy to her.

"Don't worry," he said. "I'll get to work on it right away and see what is wrong with it." The ladies waited while Hiram hopped into his truck and went back toward town, Mary's car trailing behind like a giant pull-toy. She felt a little lost watching her car rolling away without her.

Liz pulled her back into the car and made sure that she was belted in safely and they headed off to the hospital.

* * * * *

By the time they navigated their way from the parking lot and through the hospital bureaucracy, Pat had been installed in a room. The charge nurse had finally told them that he was being kept at least overnight for observation for a suspected concussion.

Mary had pretty much regained control of herself and could see that Pat was already a favorite with the staff. What was it about him that made him so damned likeable? And it wasn't just the nurses, even the doctor who had been in the ambulance with him acted like Pat was his best friend. Standing at the door, Mary watched a pair of nurses fussing over him and making sure that he was comfortable. She knew that it was silly to feel jealous, but she wanted to yell at them that this guy was hers. She might not have felt quite so territorial if the girls hadn't been identical twins and looked like the westernized version of the Doublemint twins.

Once the nurses had left, Pat smiled at the two of them. "Good morning again! Mary, I'm afraid that I can't buy that breakfast, unless you want to eat hospital food. But I'll treat tomorrow. Okay?"

Mary couldn't help but say, "Are you sure you will have time for me? It looked like you were really enjoying the attention you were getting from those two." Even though she tried, she couldn't keep the annoyed tone out of her voice.

"You mean Mandi and Randi? I went to school with them. I dated them both back then.”

Mary Sue asked, “Both at once?”

“I really only wanted to date Mandi, but I couldn't tell the difference between them so it made more sense to take them out on dates as a pair." He waggled his eyebrows at her.

It was impossible to maintain her stiffness towards him in the face of his teasing and Mary smiled to see that he was still in good spirits. She and Liz settled into seats to keep him company. They started out chatting about the doctor's assessment of the damage that had been done to Pat. When Mary told him about what had happened to her car, he was shocked and outraged. He was even angrier when Mary told him about the sheriff's lack of interest in looking into the assault on Pat.

Mary and Liz worked to get him to relax because the pressure couldn't be good for him. Mary explained that she had preserved all of the evidence that she has found in and around the house. Hopefully, she would be able to find some way to get the law to investigate.

An orderly came to take Pat away for x-rays. Mary said, "It looks like you're going to be busy for the rest of the day, so I'll come back tomorrow to either visit or get you home. Okay?"

Pat nodded and winced as he put his head down. It was obvious that he was dealing with some pain.

"I doubt if I'm going to get much sleep for a while," he said. "They're going to want to make sure that I don't go slipping into a coma."

A sudden thought struck Mary and she pulled Yolanda's journal from her purse. "Why don't I leave this with you? It will give you something to keep you from being bored too much and it will probably be safer here than if I'm carrying it around."

"Thank you," he answered. "I'll be careful with it." He solemnly took the book from her and put it on the table beside his bed. Seeing how the staff felt about Pat, Mary knew that there was very little chance of the book being stolen while he was here.

Mary waited until Liz had left the room and she leaned over Pat to give him a hug. She might not be able to stake her claim in front of the staff, but she could at least let Pat know how she felt. The surprised smile on his face that morphed into a happy one was a pleasure to see.



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