Journeys West - Chapter 13 - The Fog Begins to Clear

Chapter 13 - The Fog Begins to Clear

by Monica Rose and Marina Kelly
Editor: Qmodo

It was still early afternoon when Leslie left the hospital. Mary Sue had been incredibly lucky. As a trained law enforcement officer, Leslie couldn't say for sure the gunman had intended to kill her. If the intention was to just wound her, the shooter had to be an expert marksman. In a state full of hunters, such a person would not be hard to find. A few inches one way or the other would have been fatal. Leslie had to assume that the attack had been intended to kill Mary Sue. Failure to think otherwise could result in her own death. Leslie had to also wonder about the selection of an antique weapon, was that intentional or simply a matter of availability.

She had taken the time to interview Hiram about everything he'd seen from the moment Mary Sue had walked into the garage. The man had been pretty shaken after seeing Mary Sue shot right in front of him, for an experienced hunter this surprised her. She had interrogated many a suspect and was good at it. All her instincts told her that he was not involved in the attack.

She considered herself an excellent judge of character and, by the time she was done, she had a pretty good picture of who and what Hiram Wilson was. He was a nice enough guy, but a bit odd. He was able to thrive and even be successful here in a small town, but a large city would eat him up and spit him out. While he had the knowledge and the equipment to damage Mary Sue's car, she just couldn't believe that the rejection of his romantic advances was sufficient motive to do something that might kill someone.

From what Hiram told her, Mary Sue had been polite to him and had not given him any reason to think that she was interested in him. Leslie reflected that Hiram might be a bit strange and dealing with some low self-esteem issues. He seemed to have an abnormal need for approval. But, at the same time, he was a realist and he saw things for the way they were. Like most men, in the case of an attractive unattached girl that didn't keep him from hoping.

The one piece of information Hiram had been able to give her was that any gearhead could have tampered with the car so that it would ultimately crash. That wasn't very helpful since there seemed to be a home mechanic under every shade tree. Every farmer and rancher had learned to work on their equipment from an early age.

In the briefcase beside her were the pieces of evidence Mary Sue had collected at Pat's house. Leslie was impressed with how carefully each item had been preserved for use by someone in law enforcement. She had even taken the time to write down where she had found each piece, the only thing missing were pictures. When she asked Mary Sue about it, she explained that her expertise had been acquired from watching cops shows on television. The girl would make a good investigator if she decided to go into that line of work. It was annoying that Sheriff Jackson had exhibited no interest in looking over the crime scene. She could only assume that he was aware of what was going on in the county, if he wasn't somehow involved.

Leslie could see that the hosiery and panties that had been used on Pat were of high quality and that they were not items that you would find on the shelf at Walmart or Target. Considering the location, speaking to someone at the mercantile in town might at least give her some information she could use. So that would be her first stop.

The store was fairly large, considering the size of the town. But Laramie appeared to be a central location for the folks that lived in the area. The store filled the entire block and there were at least two stories. There were departments for men and women, as well as sections for electronics, home improvement and snack food. A sign indicated that riding tack was on the second floor. There was no attempt to stock food items and she assumed that was to avoid competition with the grocery store that was located out on the highway.

It took her a few minutes to find the area she wanted. Woman's delicates were hidden out of view in a back corner. She spent a few minutes browsing through the ladies' merchandise and could see offerings for women and girls that were good enough for daily wear or to church, but nothing upscale. It looked like you either ordered what you wanted or drove up to the city to shop at the larger stores.

She waited at the counter for only a couple of minutes before a matron-appearing woman came over. Her brown hair was just showing the start of gray and she had it twisted around the back of her head into some form of a bun. It made her look older than she really was and a bit severe, but that might have been the intent. Her name tag said 'Ruth'.

Her smile was friendly enough and Leslie's uniform did not seem to affect her bearing when she said, "Hi. May I help you?"

"Is this all of your lady's wear? I was looking for something fancy."

"Yes. This is everything that we carry in our inventory. Were you looking for something special?"

Leslie could put her head down and say softly "I'm going to be in town for a few days and I wanted to treat myself with something really classy not trashy? I'm not really worried about the price really is not a concern."

"We don't get very many requests for that kind of thing here. Usually folks make the trip down to Cheyenne to shop at some of the larger stores."

"I see. I suppose that wouldn't be a problem for me because I live closer to Cheyenne. I'll just have to settle for something less flashy. What about the people who can't get down to the city to do their shopping?"

"A lot of people use the Internet to special order things like that, but we have a lot of customers that aren't comfortable with that, so we do offer a service that will handle placing the order and take delivery for them. We occasionally place lingerie orders for some of the men in town that don’t want them delivered to their homes. Surprises for their wives they tell us. "

Smirking she added, "There are a lot of large sized woman around these parts so I guess they could be telling the truth." Then with an impish grin added, "Some of the single men have asked for our help too."

Leslie's radar immediately perked up that piece of news. She was sure that there were not too many people in the area who would purchase this quality of lingerie and be willing to treat it as nothing more than rags. Most folks in the area were lucky to survive in today's economy.

"So I could order anything that I need?" She knew that delivery would be long after she left town, so she wasn't intending upon actually ordering anything.

"Oh yes. Is there something in particular you were looking for?"

"Actually there is." Leslie opened her briefcase and took out the plastic bags holding her evidence. "This is what I'm interested in." She lay the bags down on the counter between them.

Ruth's smile faded when she saw Leslie's evidence. It was apparent that Ruth had seen this kind of merchandise in the past and Leslie's pulse quickened at the possibility that her job had just gotten easier.

"This lingerie looks rather high quality. I know that we don't carry anything like this." Ruth said.

"Can you tell me if this was something that was ordered through the store?"

"I can't say that I have seen anything like this ordered recently. Maybe one of the other girls did though."

Leslie was sure that any other employee that she spoke with would say the same thing. The difference was that they would all be telling her the truth when they said that they had no knowledge about this lingerie. Ruth had information that she needed, but getting it would be problematic.

Ruth's behavior was akin to being afraid to talk about this as well as some sadness. Maybe she could take some pressure off from her.

"You do keep records of special orders, don't you?"

"Yes, ma'am. I don't have access to that information though. You would need to talk to Emily Stone, our manager."

This was exactly what Leslie wanted. It went without saying that the store kept records and speaking with the manager would take the pressure away from Ruth.

"Is Emily here? I'd like to ask her some questions if I could. It would really help me."

Ruth nodded and her smile returned. "I'll go get her. It will be a few minutes." She hurried off and disappeared into the back of the store.

While she was gone, Leslie browsed through the shelves and racks for a change of clothing. She had a bag in the trunk of her car as she found herself roving around the state and could be hours away from home at the end of the day. But it was never quite enough for what she needed. Such was the life of a state trooper.

She had a change of clothes for a couple of days selected and on the counter by the time Ruth came out of the back with an attractive middle aged woman, wearing a long white flowing skirt and a long sleeved button up lavender blouse. This had to be Emily as she led the way back over to where Leslie waited.

"Hi. I'm Emily Stone. Ruth said that you needed to speak to me?" She appeared to be a few years younger than Ruth. Her smile was just as easy as Ruth's and she kept her hair completely natural instead of tying it up like Ruth had done. Leslie eyes were somehow drawn to the glossiness of Emily's black hair and how her understated makeup made her blue eyes seem to stand out.

Leslie returned her smile and their eyes met. She felt a warm flush in her face that seemed to spread down her front. Emily was a kindred spirit of some sort and Leslie knew that she would be able to accomplish a lot by just asking politely. She could see that Emily was similarly affected.

"Well hello there Ms. Stone, I'm looking into the arson at the library and some of the other things that took place yesterday. I'm hoping that you can answer a few questions for me." The truth was always the best approach to things...except when lying would advance an investigation.

Emily's face clouded for a moment. She took a step closer, stopping just outside Leslie's private space. She was close enough Leslie could detect the delicate floral scent she was wearing. Extending her well-manicured hand she warmly said, "Please. Call me Em, officer. I'll try to help you if I can."

Leslie liked the informal atmosphere that Em was trying to establish. She liked things that way herself.

"My name is Leslie, Em." The two women smiled again, comfortable with each other. "I'm trying to determine where this lingerie could have come from." She indicated her evidence bags that she had replaced in her open briefcase. "They were used in the assault upon Pat Summerfield."

Emily joked, "Assaulted with lingerie? That must be a first."

Leslie smiled while she absentmindedly played with her hair and bite her lower lip." It's a long story, I can't go into now."

There was no harm in sharing information about this particular case. News and gossip seemed to travel faster than the phone lines could possibly carry it, so any knowledge of this evidence was either public knowledge or was on its way already.

Using Pat Summerfield's name and saying that this was related to his assault were the magic words that opened up the Aladdin's Cave of information. Both Emily and Ruth lost their reticence and were totally focused upon what Leslie wanted to know.

"This clothing does look vaguely familiar," Emily said. "It's way beyond the quality of lingerie that I could afford though. We don't have much call to order this kind of thing around here. But it would have been a few years ago that we would have handled that order."

"Really? Can you tell me anything about it?"

Emily looked around and said, "This is something that should really be discussed in my office." She looked to Ruth and asked her to take care of the merchandise that Leslie had gathered and led Leslie into the back of the store.

Emily stopped at her office door and ushered Leslie in. Once they were behind a closed door in Emily's office, she motioned to an overstuffed leather chair positioned in front of her desk. As Leslie sat Emily slid into her office chair and faced the state trooper, "I like how you have your hair pulled back. That color really suits you."

Leslie blushed again. Working with mostly guys all of the time in today’s climate of political correctness meant that she didn't get many compliments. "Thank you. Not being able to let my hair down is the one thing about this job that I don't like. I've always thought that black hair like yours was what I would love to have. It is really lovely, but with my complexion I wouldn't be able to pull it off."

Emily smiled at the compliment and then asked, "We haven't heard how Pat is doing? He is really a nice guy; I can't imagine why anyone would want to hurt him. I understand that the girl he was helping got hurt too. Can you tell me what happened to them? Are they okay? I only heard that they got hurt, but not how."

"Yes, they're both fine. Pat will have a lump on his head and Mary Sue is going to be okay too. I'm surprised that you don't know about it already. I know how fast news travels in small towns."

Emily giggled at her comment, undid the top button on her blouse and bent forward exposing just a hint of lace from her bra. With an absolutely straight face, she looked Leslie directly in the eyes and fanned herself with her hand and said, "Is it just me or is it hot in here." Emily immediately smiled and apologized to say, “Sorry, I didn't mean to act silly, but I've always wanted to be able to say that.”

Leslie squirmed in her seat and sat up straight. Flirting with an attractive woman had not been on her to do list this morning and she was a little off her stride, but she was having fun. She uncrossed her legs and wished that the desk wasn't between them.

Emily arched her back pointing her feminine endowments directly at her quest while she was obviously batting her eyelashes at Leslie. She toned it down again with a grin.

"Ruth wasn't around back when this lingerie was purchased. If I remember correctly, I was the assistant manager at the time and I remember when Mr. Kaylock would place orders for things like this at least once a week. I know that his wife really liked to wear things of this quality. She knew that he wanted to surprise her, so she would come into the store the day after he placed an order and make sure that they were the ones that she wanted. I learned to hold the order back until she had looked it over and approved or changed it.

Emily was sad as she recalled her boss' wife. "Mrs. Kaylock was a nice woman. Mr. Kaylock was nothing the way he is now and I think that she made him a better man. When she died, he lost the only thing that kept him being a decent person. Since then, he has been focused upon enlarging his ranch and taking control of more and more of the county. I guess he's decided that getting into Congress is an even better idea. He's become harder and harder to work for."

"How did his wife die?"

"It came out of nowhere, one day she was fine and the next she was dead from a stroke. There was an autopsy done and the results were not supposed to be known, but this town is small enough that nothing stays secret for very long. Especially when she was so well liked."

Leslie smiled again. "I guess that explains why there isn't a town newspaper. All you have to do is stop by the gas station or the diner to get the day's news."

Emily laughed. "Work has been keeping me pretty close to my desk this past week. Mr. Kaylock wants the books looking good in case anyone starts looking into his business records. I only hear snippets of gossip and I haven't even been able to get to the diner for lunch."

"I can sympathize. I'm on the road almost half of every month. I probably won't get back to my apartment for a few more days."

Leslie couldn't miss how Em's eyes seemed to light up a bit at that. Emily moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue and inquired, "Will you be staying here in town

Leslie hesitated for a moment. Did she want to share where she would be in town? She relaxed when she realized that it would be impossible to keep secret anyway.

"Thanks for the offer but I expect to be staying with Pat Summerfield and Mary McLaughlin."

"Well if it gets too crowded with the three of you living together, after all two is company and three is a crowd. I have a vacant room no one is using at the moment and you could make use of it. I am always willing to support my local lawman, especial when he is an attractive woman."

Emily was suddenly nervous as she said, "If you're staying in town, do you think that you might like to come down to the diner? We could share a meal sometime. I hate eating alone and it gets lonely around here without good companionship."

"Yes, I will be. I need to talk to a few people yet and I'm hoping to do that tonight. Then I can relax for the rest of the night." Leslie was hoping that Em's questions meant something.

Emily was suddenly playing with a pen as she said shyly, "Maybe I'll see you there?"

"I think that I would like that. We could get something to eat and just talk."

Em's smile shone like a spotlight. "The diner is the social hub here in town. They might not have a good wine cellar, but they have a great selection of cold beer. If someone sees us having dinner together, the entire county will know by breakfast."

Leslie acknowledged her with a nod. "I'm not really concerned about what people think or say about me." She looked Emily in the eye and said, "If you think that gossip would be interesting, imagine what it would be if we also had breakfast together.’

Emily laughed, "It’s not my reputation I was thinking about. I was just concerned about what people talking could do to your job."

Leslie waved her hand dismissively. "My personal life is no one's business but my own. If I'm not breaking the law, my boss is only concerned about whether I'm stopping crime."

"I hope I see you there," Em said warmly. Both women stood for a moment looking into each other's eyes. Emily attempted to step around Leslie to lead her out. But accidently tripped and fell, Leslie caught her to prevent her from falling. Emily stood up, apologized and before Leslie could react gave her a quick kiss on the cheek as a thank you.

Leslie really did not want to head over to the fire house, she would have been happy to talk with Emily for much longer. Maybe over a drink later.

Emily opened the door for her and Leslie stepped back into the store itself. She felt Emily watching her as she walked back to where Ruth stood with the clothes she had folded neatly for Leslie. At the counter, she looked back at Emily and the two women exchanged small hand waves and smiles.

* * * * *

She put her new clothes into the section of the trunk she had cleared out for herself. Using the same car to cover her region of the state meant that her trunk seemed to be filled with equipment and she had to work to maintain some space. The distance to the fire house was short, but she wanted the car near her. It probably took longer to move the car than it would have taken her to walk there.

She could see the hulking fire engine sitting halfway out on the approach apron. She saw a couple of men loading equipment into the lockers on the side of the truck. She left her car well out of the way of big doors of the building and walked up to the main fire truck. The two men she had seen looked up as she came up to them and one, apparently in charge, turned to her.

"Yes, ma'am," he said. "Can I help you?"

Leslie smiled disarmingly. "I hope so. Are you the chief?"

"No, I'm the good looking one this other mutt is the chief." He hooked his thumb at the larger man at the back of the truck.

The chief stuck out his meaty paw to shack hands and said "Do you need something officer?"

Leslie had read the report that the man had filed regarding the library fire and she knew that he had told an entirely objective review of what had happened and made no attempt to slant the facts in some way. Because the report submitted by the sheriff had been the opposite, she knew that the fire chief would be ally she could depend upon.

"I'm looking into the fire at the library because it's a historic landmark and the violence that has been going on. I'm trying to find out if it is all related."

The fire chief nodded. "Yes. I heard about Pat and we were the first responders when Miss McLaughlin was shot."

Leslie returned his nod. She already knew that they had been there for Mary Sue. What she needed to determine was if any of his men might have been involved with the assault on Pat. She was sure that he would not be as friendly if she came right and asked him if any of his people might be responsible.

"Was anyone here in the station yesterday morning? Would anyone have seen anything out of the ordinary?" Even though it had been very early, she wanted to rule people out. The gemstone that Mary Sue had found outside of Pat's house indicated the possible involvement of a woman or a man with a diamond in his ring. Either one narrowed her suspect pool.

"I'm afraid not. I was the only one here and I was sound asleep until about 6. There weren't any calls, so I didn't have any reason to call in the rest of the guys – we are a volunteer Fire Department."

"That's what I figured. He was attacked when everything would have been deserted. Just traffic alone would have been something. So you didn't open up around here until after 6?"

"I'm afraid not. Tom didn't get here until about 6:30. We're the only two full-timers here."

She asked a few more questions like how many volunteers he had in the department and what kind of training they had. The chief provided her a by name roster and a copy of everyone's training records. She came away knowing that there were only ten total team members and they all took part in training that would make them all capable of moving an unconscious body into Pat's house. She spent the rest of the afternoon determining any possible alibis for the people on the list the chief provided her. She left Liz for last because she would be in the diner later on.

* * * * *

The insistent ringing of the doorbell finally got through to Pat. The light in the room had faded as the sun had gone down, but he could see enough to know that Mary was still sleeping soundly. He carefully slid away from her, avoiding any jostling, and headed for the front door, pulling the bedroom door partway closed.

But the time he got to the door, the doorbell had been replaced with loud knocking. The front door was made of heavy oak, so he looked through the peephole for safety. Seeing that it was Leslie, he quickly opened up and let her in. He signaled for her silence and led her back to the kitchen. They took seats around the table with a pitcher of water.

"I'm glad you heard me," Leslie said. "I doubt that forcing a door like that would have been easy."

Pat smiled. "This house was built to withstand Indian attacks. It would be a chore to chop through that door and to even burn it. The weakest part about it are the hinges that hold it in the frame."

Leslie nodded her satisfaction. "That's good. I can see that your first floor windows are even designed for security, with heavy wood shutters. I recommend you keep them closed. It would seem this really is the safest place for you to stay. How is Mary doing?"

"She's still asleep, but I think that she is handling things all right."

"I'm pretty sure that whoever attacked you and sabotaged Mary Sue's car is the same person. The same person probably shot her as well. I'm trying to determine if that person had any accomplices. The fire at the library seems to be different to me though. That appears to have been an attempt to destroy evidence and it was not necessarily aimed at you, except for the fact that the doors were chained shut.

"I'm ruling out people right now rather than trying to point to suspects. The last person I want to talk to is Liz at the diner. I thought that it would work to escort the two of you to dinner and interview her at the same time."

"That sounds good to me. We've been sleeping all day and it would be easier for us to eat there instead of trying to fix a meal right now. I'll go get Mary up and moving. I'll be back in a few minutes."

While Pat went back to roust Mary Sue out of bed, Leslie reviewed her notes. All incidents coincided with Mary Sue's arrival in town. It wasn't until she visited the library to look at the old records and newspapers that were stored there that the violence had started. The arson almost seemed to be an act of desperation, which begged the question of whether the chained door had been intended to keep occupants in the building or to keep out those who intended to put the fire out.

When it became known that not only had everything been salvaged from the building, the violence had escalated. While the attack on Pat had been a simple assault, Mary Sue could have been killed. Was Pat spared because he was a resident of the town? It didn't seem that her attacker was squeamish, which meant that there could be more than a single bad actor involved.

Leslie sat back and tapped her pen against her teeth in thought. It meant that she needed to shake things up around here. She wished that she was a detective like Sherlock Holmes or Columbo. They at least had a good idea who the bad guy was when they started work. But maybe the person or people she was looking for wouldn't be that hard to find.

She looked up as Mary Sue made her way into the kitchen. The girl didn't look too bad for having been shot only the day before. Of course, she wouldn't be winning beauty contests for a while.

"Did you get any sleep at all?" Leslie asked. Asking how Mary felt was just asinine. It was obvious that she wasn't feeling the best. She looked tired and Leslie could tell that she was in some pain.

"I took one of the pain killers they gave me. I'm okay to go out on the town, but don't ask me to drive or play tennis. What is really annoying is that I can't even brush my hair without help."

Pat spoke up, "That's no problem I will be happy to be your personal maid for a few days. I am more than a pretty face. I can cook, clean, do laundry, keep house and if need be I can also be your nurse."

Mary Sue joked, "Just what every girl dreams of, a six foot - two hundred pound handmaiden."

Pat frowned sucked in his stomach and said, "Are you calling me fat? I'm not even at 200 pounds!"

Mary Sue and Leslie looked at each other and laughed, "No it's just a figure of speech. I can at least wipe my butt." She smiled wryly. "I think that Pat and I will be keeping the Tylenol folks in business this week."

Leslie nodded and smiled a bit sympathetically. "I've been shot once myself," she said. "I was out of work for 2 weeks and I drove a desk for another 4 after that." She slapped the table and stood to break the mood. "Let's go over to the diner. The fresh air will be good for you both and I don't think that you're in any danger."

"Showing the public that we're okay can't hurt either," Pat said as he came in behind Mary Sue.

Leslie nodded and grinned. "That's true. I know that you will be fine tonight with me and I don't plan on letting you go anywhere alone. I have a few more people to talk to before I file my report and recommend what action my superiors should take."

The three of them drove down to the diner in Leslie's state-issued car. The drive was all of a mile, Pat complained about the lack of leg room because he rode in the back. Leslie agreed with him and apologized. He should just be happy that he wasn't stuck back there.

The diner was about half full with a couple of tables holding a large group of men in some kind of a meeting. They were keeping the noise down so that they did not overpower conversations in the rest of the place. There were only a few times when laughs or a word might be said a bit loudly.

On the other side of the dining room were seated half a dozen couples sprinkled around so that they had a semblance of privacy. Of note was a table where Sheriff Jackson was seated with his wife Samantha. Liz was moving among the tables with water and coffee. It took Leslie only a moment to scan the occupied tables to see that Emily was not present and she felt a little disappointed.

The three of them took a table near the back because Leslie was playing it safe. She faced the door and kept her back to the wall. Just because she thought that Pat and Mary Sue were safe being out in public was no reason to tempt fate by putting them on display in the front of the restaurant. Liz was over quickly to drop off glasses of water and menus before she flitted away again. While Liz was seeing to the large group up front, Leslie left the two of them at the table while she went up to talk to Fred, her boss, for a few minutes. When she finished, she took a seat at a table further into the back of the dining room. When Liz swung back through, she waved Liz over and asked her to take a seat.

"I can't right now. I have tables that need to be taken care of."

Fred chimed in at that point. "It's okay, Liz. I'll watch the dining room while you talk to the Lieutenant."

None of this had been missed by the sheriff who was apparently concentrating intently upon his meal. Leslie knew that he was listening, his presence was immaterial. Just as she knew that Pat and Mary Sue could hear from where they sat, she knew that the sheriff would hear as well. This fit in with her intention to stir the waters as see what came to the surface. The town grapevine already knew what she was doing anyway.

Liz shrugged and slid into the chair across from Leslie.

Leslie gave her a friendly smile to put her at ease. "Thank you. I just have a few questions to round out my report." She opened her notebook and said, "You were the first one to find Miss McLaughlin after her car went out of control, correct?"

"Yes. It was almost off the road and pointed toward the drainage ditch. Another ten feet and she would have been in the ditch."

"Hiram says that her car could only have been driven a few miles before the steering failed, so the damage had to have been done the night before. That would have been sometime before or after Mr. Summerfield was attacked."

"Yes, that makes sense."

"Now, the reason I'm interviewing you and your fellow firefighters is because it took a man strong enough and trained to move a 200 pound unconscious person." Pat bit his tongue, damn it he was only 180 pounds!

Surprisingly it was Liz took offense, "I'm not a feminist! But any woman who is properly trained can move a dead weight of that size."

Leslie smiled to herself, realizing that Liz had been hoist with her own petard. "You're right Liz. I hadn't thought of that. Now that I think about it, according to your records you have had that type of training, right?"

Liz suddenly realized that there was a good possibility she could be accused of the two crimes and became cautious and quiet.

"Liz, I have to ask you where you were that night. You have the automotive knowledge to know what to do to a car and you have the firefighter training to move a person. I need to be able to rule you out as a possible suspect."

Liz was suddenly nervous and managed to get out, "I was at the firehouse, checking over the engine. It's been acting up and it was a good time to take care of it."

Leslie leaned forward and looked intently at Liz. "Miss McHenry, I’ve talked to the fire chief first thing today. He says that the station was closed up and he didn't have anyone around until at least half past six in the morning."

"That's right. I was here, doing some deep cleaning. We don't have much of a chance to do that usually."

Fred was checking the tables around them and spoke up. "That's not true Liz. I was here early."

Caught in another lie, Liz froze. Leslie could see her mind racing, trying to come up with something to say that would sound likely. She put her notebook and pen down on the table and sat back in her chair. She studied Liz's face and could see that Liz was frightened. She could also see that she was not the person she was looking for, but she knew something or had something that she did not want to reveal.

Liz finally broke down and said, "Alright! I’ll tell you the absolute truth, I was home in bed all night." Leslie had heard that alibi too many times to take it seriously and it showed on her face.

"Liz, my gut tells me that you are probably not involved in these incidents. But I can only go by the facts. Your inability to explain your whereabouts when these crimes were committed is a problem. I will have to take you into custody, I am sure Sheriff Jackson can find room for you in his jail. I wouldn’t be doing my job otherwise. I'm going to have to include this in my report and I can only advise you to engage an attorney."

Liz looked like she wanted to say something, but her expression changed as she overrode that desire.

"I know that it looks bad, but I could not have gotten under Mary Sue's car to do anything to it. I pulled a muscle in my back and I was wearing a corset as a back brace. I couldn't have bent over to save my life." Her expression was entirely sincere and she really hoped the Leslie accepted this alibi.

From where she sat, it occurred to Mary Sue that this might account for the brace she had felt when she had hugged Liz right after the accident. Mary Sue and Pat were not the only ones to have overheard the conversation between Leslie and Liz. Before she could speak up to backup Liz's statement, a defense came from a different quarter.

Samantha had not said a word during Leslie's interview, but she had almost hung on every word. It was difficult for her to listen in on what was being said without letting her husband see her interest. When she heard that Liz might now be a suspect, and possibly incarcerated under her husband's care, she couldn't remain still. Leslie was taken by surprise when Samantha came to the table and stood beside Liz, her hands resting on Liz’s shoulders looking down at Leslie.

"Officer..." She hesitated in her approach, almost as if she were realizing what she was doing. "Liz wasn't involved with what happened to Pat or Miss McLaughlin." She hesitated again before she rushed to get what she needed to say out. "She was with me...all night."

Pat couldn’t keep quite. "Wait a minute Samantha, Liz just told us she was home in bed?"

Samantha looked at Pat and said, "I can verify that."

The noise from the tables on the other side of the diner suddenly seemed deafening. The tables around Liz and Leslie were deathly quiet.

Liz looked up at her with a mix of love, admiration, and sorrow. Samantha had revealed a secret that probably meant damage to her marriage, if not the end of it. Liz had obviously been prepared to deal with the possible legal problems rather than cause her lover problems. The lover who had just come to her defense and rescue.

Leslie was seated so that she could see the entire restaurant, while Liz had her back to it. Samantha's attention was focused solely upon Liz, so neither woman saw the sheriff push himself away from the table and leave the building with a cold look on his face. Leslie did see his reaction however. Likewise, Pat and Mary Sue had seen his reaction and had kept their reaction to themselves. Even though there was no love lost between Pat and the sheriff, it was disrespectful to kick the man when he was down. A man can understand losing his wife to another man, but the shame to lose her to a woman had to be unbearable.

Leslie looked up at Samantha and said, "Thank you, Mrs. Jackson. I appreciate having you tell me that. It's what I needed to know and it really helps. I am sorry that you had to speak out now though. If I had known that this would be the situation, I would not have spoken to Liz here." She looked sympathetically at both Liz and Samantha. "I know how hard it was admit that."

Samantha spoke up. There was anger in her eyes. " I don’t think you have any idea how hard it was to raise the veil over something you have been forced to keep hidden your entire life."

Leslie shook her head, "Mrs. Jackson, I beg to differ, I was in the military during a time when, if my own sexual orientation had become known, I would have been treated like a criminal solely because of my sexual orientation. The times are changing, from what I have learned, both you and Liz are well respected in town. I doubt anyone is going to demand you wear a Scarlet letter on your chest."

That was when Samantha looked up and realized that her husband was no longer at their table. She looked around and could not see him anywhere. "He left when you spoke up for Liz," Leslie told her. "I am sorry, obviously not everyone is going to understand."

Leslie knew that she had mishandled this interview and was responsible for damaging Samantha's marriage and probably destroying it. She needed to include this in her report. It was entirely possible that a lawsuit could be filed against her for this action and she was not going to make the state share the responsibility.

Samantha stood looking at the front door of the diner for a minute, lost in thought. She looked back to Leslie and her face creased in a seldom-seen smile, even though there were tears in her eyes. "It's okay officer," she said. "This was a long time coming. It's a surprise that we were able to keep it secret as long as we did. I'll have to see what Royce is going to do."

She looked to Liz who had been frozen at the table in sorrow for the death of her lover's marriage. The look on Liz's face was a mixture of love and fear. Her face was wet with her tears as she contemplated losing Samantha back to her husband.

"Do you have a place for me tonight?"

That plaintive question and Samantha's timid tone had Liz up and hugging Samantha in a heartbeat.

"Of course I do. You can stay as long as you want. But I get first choice of closet space, I know what a clothes horse you are." Samantha just seemed to melt into Liz's arms. The men's group in front had looked over when Jackson had stormed out, but had gone back to their conversations, so Leslie, Pat, and Mary Sue were the only ones watching now. The three of them smiled at the happiness before them.

The restaurant door opened and Leslie up to see Emily standing just inside, looking around. They both smiled when they saw each other and Emily walked back to where they were all situated. Liz and Samantha were still lost in their lovers' embrace. Leslie stood to greet her new friend and smiled as Emily stopped in front of her.

"Hi." A thrill seemed to go up Leslie's spine and tickle her belly at the same time. She felt like she was a teenager again.

"Hi." Emily's eyes were locked on Leslie's, a smile flashing on and off as she wondered how things were going to go.

Emily looked away from Leslie to glance at Liz and Samantha and smiled. "I see they have finally made it public. I wondered how long that would take." She looked back to Leslie to ask, "Have you eaten yet?"

"No," Leslie replied. "I was finishing a conversation with Liz and I lost control of things. I think that everything is going to be okay. Is that correct, Mrs. Jackson?"

Samantha broke her embrace long enough to answer and looked Leslie in the eye. The dullness that had been there earlier had been replaced with a spark. "Yes, I think that everything will be great. Are we free to go? There is so much we have to discuss."

"Of course," Leslie said. She looked at Liz. "Thank you for talking to me and I'm sorry for what seemed like an accusation."

"It's okay," Liz said. "I think that is exactly what we needed." Her smile could not get much wider. She looked back at Samantha and said, "I have to finish up here. Go on up to my place and I'll be up in about an hour." She leaned in and gave her lover a deep kiss.

"Okay. I'll get my stuff out of the house tomorrow when Royce is at work." They hugged each other and Samantha headed into the back of the diner.

Leslie inquired, "You knew about them?"

Em smiled as she watched them leave. "Of course, after all as you pointed out it's a small town and we have an élite woman's club. We may not know everyone eligible to join, but trust me when I say that we are familiar with most who are qualified." The corners of her eyes crinkled as she smiled suggestively at Leslie.

Pat and Mary Sue had been watching the impromptu floor show that had started with a police interview and ended with a love scene. They both had smiles on their faces as things wound down to a happy ending. Their water glasses had been emptied long ago, but they hadn't noticed. They had been sitting as quiet as they could to avoid interrupting what was going on. It was as if they were afraid to make noise and call attention to themselves or bring everything back to reality.

Leslie came over to their table and said, "I'm going to eat with Emily and I'll escort the two of you home again when you're ready to go."

Pat nodded in response. "Not a problem. We'll be over in the corner. You two play nice now." He said this last to Emily, still smiling.

Leslie proceeded to blush bright red and blinked at Pat, apparently at a loss for words. Emily saw her reaction and touched Leslie's shoulder to get her attention. "He's just teasing. We practically grew up together here in town. He's like a brother to me." Leslie gave Pat a scowl that turned into a grin before she turned away to walk with Emily to another table. One that provided more privacy than what had been available before.

Liz had gone back to checking on her tables once Samantha was gone and was just cycling through this side of the dining room. She saw Leslie and Emily seated together, talking quietly with each other and smiled fondly. She quickly took care of refilling glasses and taking orders. Everyone seemed to have a smile on their face.

Mary Sue's shoulder had stiffened over the past few hours and it hurt to move so she found herself opting for a salad and the meatloaf. She looked longingly at Pat's steak but hadn't considered the fact that he might cut it up for her.

"I haven't had Fred's meatloaf in a while. How do you like it?"

"It's pretty good. But it isn't as good as that steak looks."

"Why didn't you get one then?"

"Because I didn't like the idea of someone cutting it up for me like I used to do for my younger brother," she replied with a grin. She looked around for Liz and leaned forward. "The sheriff looked pretty pissed when he went out of here."

"I'm afraid so," Pat answered. "He's always been a macho jerk and finding out that Samantha prefers to be with Liz had to be a real hit to his ego."

"Pat, he doesn't abuse her does he?" She asked.

"Not that I know of, but I don't see her that often. Why?"

"I had a friend back in New York whose husband was hitting her. Her attitude and behavior was a lot like what I noticed with Samantha. On top of that, I saw her in the sheriff's office on the first day I was here and I saw some bruises on her arm. Like someone had held it and squeezed it...hard."

Pat looked thoughtful. "I don't have a lot of knowledge in that area. I'm sure that Liz must know something, but I don't know why she hasn't gotten Samantha to do something about it."

"It's something that you can't force. I think that it's great that Samantha has someone else in her life though. It will help her a lot."

Pat nodded thoughtfully. "You know. I think that I must have dated all of the single girls in town at one time or another, Liz included. Now that I think about it though, all we did was talk that night and we never went out again. I never gave it any thought. We have always just been friends."

"What about Emily she's an attractive woman?" Mary asked.

He shrugged. "I never dated her. She was always a loner, she just never seemed to be available."

"Well, I think that she has someone now." Mary nodded slightly to the back where Leslie and Emily were seated. The two women were having an obviously good time chatting. They were holding hands across the table.

Pat stared deeply into Mary Sue's eye as he added, "Everyone needs someone to love."

"That's good too," Pat said. "I haven't known her long, but I think that Lieutenant Caldwell is a decent person. From what I remember of Emily, she's pretty good too."

They moved on to other topics, like who was in more pain and what their course of action should be now. Mary won the pain contest because Pat's headache was pretty much gone and her shoulder hurt to move. They agreed that things were pretty much at a standstill and were in the hands of the law. The wisest thing that they could do was stay in the house and not go roaming around.

Mary had been mulling things over during dinner and she managed to keep up her side of the conversation. Finishing her salad, she looked up at Pat and said, "I don't know that there is much left here for me to research. I think that I'll have to go home once Leslie has finished her investigation and released us." She looked down again, blinking. There was something in her eye that she tried to blink away. "Considering the fact that my shoulder makes it impossible for me to drive, I'll have to take a plane out of Cheyenne."

Pat looked at her sadly, knowing that she was right. Her life was in New York and there was nothing here for her. Except him. He saw a tear drop from her downturned face and knew that she felt as badly as he did. He was too much of a guy to cry himself, but the steak he had for dinner seemed to be sitting in a black pit as the sadness he forced inside made his belly hurt.

"She hasn't finished yet and you aren't gone either. Do you want to go back to the house?"

Mary didn't lift her head as she nodded her agreement. She had always maintained a barrier around her heart and emotions, but these past few days had seen her feelings for Pat erode that armor. She knew what lust was because of her experiences at the casino that had helped pay for her degree. This didn't feel like that though, but she hadn't felt like this before, at least not since high school.

She realized that she was falling into deep like with Pat. She couldn't call it love, at least not yet. She hadn't known him that long. Something in Pat's tone when he invited her back to the house told her that he didn't want her to leave any more that she wanted to. Maybe talking was what they needed.

Pat looked at the woman across from him. She was a wonderful mix of self-assured modern woman and a shy teenager. While there had been a few girls like that with him in school, they had moved in different social circles or they lived too far away to make any kind of relationship work. While he knew all of the young women in town, and there weren't that many, he just never seemed to click with them. They felt the same way about him and they were all on friendly terms. He and Mary Sue had seemed to mesh from the moment they met each other and he wished that there was some way to explore the relationship further.

He looked over to where Leslie and Emily where talking quietly. It looked like the two women had discovered kindred spirits in each other, just like it felt for himself and Mary Sue. He realized that with Leslie’s job, they were going to have similar issues. Leslie spent her time traveling all over the state. Considering the things that had gone on in last few days, there was no way he was going to suggest to Mary Sue that they walk the few hundred yards back to his house, even if she didn't have her arm in a sling.

He really hated to interrupt them, but he went over to their table. "Excuse me. Leslie, Mary Sue is feeling a bit down and I think that she needs to get back to the house. Could you run us back there?"

Leslie looked up, but her hand did not leave Emily's. "Yes, I can take the two of you home. You should be okay there tonight."

Pat shrugged. "The house is pretty solid stonework. It would take an earthquake to knock it down."

Emily leaned forward toward Leslie, who leaned in to let Emily whisper in her ear. She looked up at Pat again and said, "Emily will follow us over."

The four of them trooped up to the cash register and paid for their meals. Outside, Emily turned to Leslie and said, "My truck is over there." She pointed at an older Ford pickup.

Pat helped Mary Sue into the backseat and then climbed in as shotgun. Leslie turned away from Emily who headed over to her truck. Leslie came over to the car and and got behind the wheel. They caravanned back to Pat's house. When they reached the house, Pat helped Mary Sue out of the car and they went into the house. Leslie watched them go inside before she took a suitcase from the car's trunk and got into Emily's truck to go back to her place.

Alone for the night, Pat and Mary Sue spent the rest of the evening talking about themselves and each other. They fell asleep on the couch, Mary Sue's head cushioned on Pat's thigh.

* * * * *

Leslie really had not intended to cause trouble for Liz and Samantha Jackson. She only wanted to stir the water so to speak so that other information might be forthcoming. She was sure that the sheriff had some knowledge about who had attacked Pat and even might know who had shot at Mary Sue. Her line of questioning with Liz had been intended to be heard by the sheriff and get back to the person she was hunting. Samantha's revelation that she had spent the night with Liz had been a shock and Leslie knew that she could never apologize enough.

It was interesting that Pat had been released so early in the morning that it was still dark when he had walked home. Almost as if it had been planned to make an attack possible. She had been unable to find anyone in town that had any reason to attack either of her friends.

Both Kaylock Senior and his son were likely suspects for all three of the crimes she was looking into. She expected that the sheriff would be more confrontational tomorrow when she went out to the Kaylock ranch. Because she was on her own and she could not rely upon the impartiality of the sheriff, it might be a good idea to take Pat and Mary Sue along, as long as she made sure to ensure their safety while they were with her.

Not only would it be frowned upon to let her witnesses be hurt in the process of investigating the attacks upon them, but she had come to regard them as likeable people that she would not mind having as friends in this part of the state. You could never have too many friends.

She put all of the thoughts about her investigation and her friends out of her mind as she looked over at Emily. She was rather cute and Leslie looked forward to getting to know her better. This could be the start of an even more rewarding friendship. Something that had been missing from her life for quite some time. Leslie intended to get better acquainted with this lovely creature.



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