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    C James
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

In Memory of Ed Wooton

For the Love - 24. Finding the Key

I heard the doorbell ringing, its unwelcome sound intruding into my troubled dreams as I fought to wake up, shuddering from having relived my ordeal on the stakes. I glanced at the clock as the cobwebs cleared; noticing that only a couple of hours had passed. Steve staggered out of bed, pulling on his boardies and heading for the front door. I pulled on my own shorts and followed, stumbling a little in my exhausted, half-asleep condition.

I'd just entered the living room when Steve opened the front door to find Lonesome Valley's Sheriff Buchanan, who looked decidedly uncomfortable. After ushering him into the living room and taking seats on the sofa opposite his chair, we waited for whatever it was that he had come to tell us.

"I'm afraid I've got some bad news," the sheriff announced, while looking at the floor.

Sheriff Buchanan coughed once, looking uneasy and pained, "The report was radioed in to our dispatcher. Unfortunately, our dispatcher is new, just recently moved here, and thus unaware of the situation with Piedmont. The dispatcher checked the map coordinates and noticed that your campsite was a few yards past the county line. Long story short, she called it in to the Piedmont Sheriff's Department. As soon as I found out I sent one of our own officers, but it was already too late; the suspect had been taken into custody by the Piedmont officers."

Eric was back in Piedmont, probably with his old buddy; the Piedmont sheriff who'd tried to kill me. I saw red as Steve asked Sheriff Buchanan, "But charges will still be pressed, won't they?"

The sheriff shrugged, "I would hope so, but the crime occurred in Piedmont County, so it's up to their D.A. Unfortunately, that's the same D.A. who dropped the previous charges against your brother. He also wants to question the two of you. He requested that you appear at the Piedmont Sheriff's office tomorrow. For obvious reasons I said 'Hell No', but I'd suggest you contact your lawyer and have him demand that it be here in Lonesome Valley, with him present, or have him reject it outright. I'd suggest using my office, because you will be facing armed Piedmont officers and I'd prefer to have me and my men around to make damn sure they don't pull anything."

Facing armed Piedmont officers…My blood ran cold as Steve asked, "What if they decide to haul us back to Piedmont with them? You know what they tried to do; their Sheriff tried to kill Chris, and they tried to snatch both of us from the Bookstore. If we were taken to Piedmont, they could just make us disappear…"

Sheriff Buchanan nodded, "I don't see any way they can do that right now, but I'll personally guarantee it: I won't let them take you, no matter what they try. I can't say I'm what you'd call a big fan of the lifestyle you two have, but I've been a lawman for over thirty years and I love the law. And by the law, I mean justice, not mealy-mouthed procedures. So, I sure as hell won't let a bunch of thugs in uniform subvert the process and harm innocent people on a technicality, even if they dig up some legal excuse. If the law gets bent a little in the process, that's a hell of a lot better than allowing it to be used for criminal ends, so don't worry about that; right now they just want to ask a few questions and you two were the victims of a murder attempt and I doubt there will be much trouble. But if there is trouble, always remember that I'm on the side of justice, not procedures, comprende?"

That was the best news we'd had so far, but I had a very strong hunch that he was wrong about there not being much trouble. Steve lowered his voice slightly, "Sheriff, my folks are in Idaho. Mom needed a break because of all the crap that has happened, she really kind of went off the deep end after the track team kicked in Chris' door. If you could see your way clear, sir, I'd prefer if you didn't call them about this."

The sheriff nodded gravely, "I see your point, son, and your dad told me where they would be going and why. There is also the fact that you are a minor; I'm supposed to let him know if there are any problems at all and last time I looked, attempted murder counts as a problem. I already tried to call him on his cell but all I get is his voicemail, so he's not in a service area or his phone is off. What I don't have is the landline number at your grandparent's home, or their names. So, unless you give me the number, I can't call."

"I guess I lost it…" Steve said with a nervous smile.

Sheriff Buchanan merely grumbled as he eased the brim of his hat back, "Uh huh. Okay, I'll let it slide for now, but you guys call me if anything comes up, or if you need anything, anything at all, got that? I'm not thrilled about you two being here on your own after all this. I'll keep a patrol car in the area as much as I can."

The sheriff took a few photos of the rope burns on our wrists and ankles. He then shot a few frames of our scratched-up backs before sitting us back down to take detailed statements from us before finally asking, "Have you guys seen a doctor?"

We indicated that we hadn't, which earned us a disapproving scowl from the Sheriff, but he kept his peace. He asked us instead to mark the location where we'd seen the tire tracks on a topographic map, which we did. He nodded glumly, "It's a long shot, but I'll make sure some casts get taken."

The Sheriff asked for the phone number I'd found in my cell phone, so I grabbed my keys and retrieved the paper I'd written the number on from my Jeep. As I sat down beside Steve, the Sheriff added the number to his notes and promised to run the number down. I was nervous, clenching my keys repeatedly in my hand, when I noticed that something was amiss. I glanced down at the keys, my eyes opening wide in horror at what I saw, or, rather, what I didn't see.

"Steve," I gasped, holding up my keychain, "The key to your Charger is missing from my key ring."

Steve didn't reply, he just ran down the hallway to the garage and I heard the creak of hinges from the door to the garage. I waited, hoping that I was wrong.

I wasn't; Steve returned to the living room, his face flushed with anger, "My car is gone, sheriff. I need to report it stolen. While we were staked out, my brother said he'd ditch Chris' Jeep in a chop-shop and claim that we left town. He must have used Chris' key and ditched my car as well."

I held up my key ring again, "The alarm remote is still here," I said, feeling confused.

Sheriff Buchanan took the key ring from me for a second, looked at the remote, and handed it back, "With that kind of alarm, he'd only need to use the remote to disarm it. After that, he'd only need the key."

The sheriff radioed in the stolen vehicle report on Steve's Charger, and stressed that the vehicle was evidence in an attempted-murder investigation.

Before leaving, the sheriff checked out my car, dusted for prints, and took our backpacks and the tranquilizer dart gun away as evidence. He did give us Steve's phone, and then after a quick examination returned mine to us as well, but he wanted his lab guy to look at the rest of our gear, the gun, and the darts that we assumed were still inside the backpacks.

After Sheriff Buchanan left, Steve and I sat on the sofa in silence. I knew he was hurting; that car meant a lot to him.

Steve grumbled, "Tell me again why, exactly, I shouldn't have left Eric up there to cook? If I had, we wouldn't be worrying about a meeting with the Piedmont cops, Eric wouldn't be in Piedmont, and…"

"And your car would still be gone," I said, giving Steve a hug, "I wish we'd noticed sooner about the Charger."

Steve shrugged, "I know, I'm just so fucking pissed off by all this shit. If we had left him up there, you're right, I'd be worried about someone finding out, and I couldn't face my folks, and probably not myself. But I want my car back, damn it, and I want Eric in jail."

I nodded, "I think it's time we started getting a little more proactive, in a lot of ways. Dex should have some results for us soon, but in the meantime why don't we hit the phones and get the word out to everyone we know to be on the lookout for both your car and Eric."

Steve nodded, a wan smile lighting his face, "Good idea. Beats doing nothing," as we headed for his room. I grabbed a cordless phone from the Williams' home line, Steve used the line in his room, and soon we had made dozens of calls each. Rob and Joe were not answering their phone, so we left a message.

The phone idea had been just to make Steve feel better. I'd never expected it to actually work, but work it did; one of Veronica's friends told us that yes, she had seen Steve's charger –darn near everyone in town would recognize it– yesterday, parked downtown and heading for Piedmont.

I knew it couldn't be both things, so I asked for some details. It came as little surprise to me that it had been parked around the corner from Thaddeus' church, and then later seen heading out of town on the highway to Piedmont.

Piedmont, yet again. I phoned Veronica at the diner in Piedmont, only to find that she wasn't due in for a few hours. I tried her home number, only to get another busy signal from her line. I told Steve, and he was quick to respond, "She's our best hope of finding anything out in Piedmont. Let's head over to her house…" Five minutes later, we were pulling into her driveway in my Jeep. As we jumped out, I felt my sunburn start to sting and wished I'd thrown on a shirt. The trip to the front door was a fast one; we both wanted to get out of the sun as fast as possible.

As I was about to ring the doorbell, we heard a splash from the back yard. We entered via the gate to find Veronica stretched out on a deck chair talking on the phone, with Chad swimming laps.

They both waved to us as we took a couple of chairs next to Veronica. Chad climbed out of the pool and padded over to us as Veronica finished her call. Chad stopped and stared at us, "Dudes, you got some righteous sunburns. No wonder you dashed for the shade."

Veronica smiled at us as she hung up the phone, "Hi guys, you're back early. I thought you were camping all weekend?"

Steve nodded, "Yeah, we went..."

Veronica never let him finish, and instead she turned to me and gushed, "This was your first camping trip, wasn't it Chris? How did you like it, did you have fun?"

I bit my tongue for a second before replying, and saw that Veronica was now staring at the rope marks on my wrists, "Yeah, it was great. We camped out, swam, did some drinking, and had a cookout. It was great fun – until Eric arrived."

Two pairs of eyes open wide as Chad asked, "Eric was there? But isn't he, like, wanted by the police?"

I pointed to the marks on my wrists, and Steve's, before replying;"Yeah, we weren't exactly expecting him. We didn't even know he was there until Steve was hit by a tranquilizer dart, and then he got me next. We woke up, staked out in the sun and hallucinating from the damn drug he used. That was the cookout; Eric left us out there to cook, and we damn near did."

Veronica, for the first time since I'd known her, was speechless. Chad's mouth moved a few times but he said nothing, so Steve and I filled them in on the details.

Veronica, as I'd expected, lit into us before we finished our recount;"Do you have any clue how stupid you two were?"

Steve shrugged, "I figured it was safe enough if nobody knew where we were. Safer than staying home anyway, or even here. We hadn't talked about where we were going in the house while the cameras were active, so it just made sense to go without telling anyone where. We figured it would be safer that way, and it would have been if Eric hadn't been right behind us when we talked about it. I also didn't know it was over the Piedmont County line."

Veronica shook her head, "Not that, Blondie, I mean why the hell didn't you grill your brother for information? Or get medical attention?

Steve looked at the floor, "We weren't thinking too clearly. That stuff Eric shot us with really messed us up and the hangover from the night before didn't help any. Then we cooked. I don't remember it too well but I think we came to around ten, not long after the sun came over the East Ridge. I think it would have been around one by the time we got loose. We were pretty dehydrated, graying in and out. Eric acted like he was strung out on something, so I figured he's a liar when sober and probably worse when high. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. By the time we got back, we were pretty much ok, just really tired."

Chad interrupted near the end of our recount, "He stole the Charger, too? Oh, man, that sucks!"

"Yep, and it was last seen heading for Piedmont. That's why we came by; Veronica, please see what you can find out. Eric said he was going to ditch the Jeep in a chop-shop, so I think that's where the Charger is heading. Know of any in Piedmont?" Steve asked.

She shook her head, "Not exactly something I deal with, Blondie, but I'll ask around. Maybe I can get someone to talk."

Steve pulled his wallet from his boardies, fished out two hundred-dollar bills, handing them to Veronica, "See if this loosens any tongues."

I handed her two more as I told her, "Anything you can find out, about anything."

Steve opened his mouth to object, but I shut down his argument, "No, Steve, we got that money from Eric, so let's both put it to good use. If you argue with me, I'll just drown you in the pool again until you see things my way, so shut up," I said with a grin.

Steve smiled, shrugged, and nodded. Veronica tucked the four C-notes into her Bikini top, "I'm leaving for work in an hour and I'll see what I can dig up. I won't use this unless I have to, but it might be a deal-maker."

We finished our recount, including Eric's dubious incarceration in Piedmont, and Veronica quickly grasped the obvious;"Rob and Joe are in the car repair biz so they might know something about chop-shops."

Steve nodded, "That's our next stop. We couldn't reach them by phone, either."

Before we left, we told Chad that we could still help him with his move on Friday, and Veronica promised to let us know the minute she found out anything at all.

As we neared Rob and Joe's, we noticed the reason for their unavailability; their tow truck was parked by the side of the road and they were both busy under the hood.

I pulled in behind them on the gravel verge, as Rob jogged back to meet us. We climbed out, Rob explaining their trouble, "The alternator belt broke, and I didn't notice the amp meter bottom out until the engine quit. We've just about got a replacement on, but we'll need a jump start. Don't stress, the truck is 12volt, not 24volt."

Steve jumped out as I wheeled the Jeep around their tow truck, pulling up beside it. I popped the hood on my Jeep as Rob approached with heavy jumper cables. "Leave it running," he said unnecessarily; I knew enough to keep the RPM's up.

Jump-starting a truck with a dead battery isn't easy and it took a few tries. Rob kept cranking the tow truck until finally it caught and reluctantly chugged to life.

They asked us to follow them back to their place, and as we drove the few remaining blocks Steve smiled, "That's a first; the tow truck breaks down and a passing motorist has to help. Rob is always on about people who don't watch their gauges, but this time it was him. I'll have to remind him of that, soon and often."

We pulled into their service yard behind Rob and Joe, parking near the gate. They greeted us and invited us up to their apartment for a soft drink, which sounded pretty good to me.

On our way up the peeling stairs, Joe remarked, "Damn, you two look like you got way too much sun, and scratched to hell. Too bad you guys weren't in your Charger today, Steve. It's got a heavier alternator in it, puts out a few more amps."

Steve looked stricken as we reached the top of the stairs and filed into the apartment, "I don't know where my alternator is, or the rest of the Charger. Probably in a dozen different places by now, it was stolen yesterday."

Joe coughed, "Stolen? The Charger? What the hell?"

We sat down after cracking open the Cokes that Rob tossed us and we, yet again, recounted the story of our camping trip and the aftermath, and again we were greeted by shocked stares.

Rob got right to the point, "If its been taken to a chop-shop, it may be too late already. I've heard rumors that somebody in Piedmont is dicing up stolen cars from Phoenix but I have no idea who, and given the situation with the Piedmont Sheriff, I guess calling the cops over there wouldn't do fuck-all. What are you going to do, any ideas?"

Steve shrugged, "If we get any leads we can turn 'em over to the Lonesome Valley Sheriff's Department, I guess, and hope they could get the State Police involved. I kinda doubt it for a stolen car, but it's all I can think of."

Rob shook his head, a sad expression on his face, "We'll ask around, see what we can turn up. I hate to say it, but you might not have much hope."

Steve seemed to fold in on himself a little, "First my brother tries to kill us, then this. If I ever see him again…" Steve left the rest of that thought unsaid.

Hoping to change the subject a little, I added, "Eric is hooked up with that Fundy whack-job, Reverend Thaddeus. This place is close to his Church, so could you keep an eye out? If you see Eric, phone it in right away. If we get him we might have a chance to get the Charger back."

Rob nodded, "Funny you should mention Thaddeus. He called us this morning; he wanted his car towed from his church to here. That's why we were out in the tow truck. He probably knows we're gay, but he seemed civil enough."

I laughed, "Yeah, but who else could he call? You guys have the only tow truck in town, along with the only auto repair biz."

Joe shrugged, "He seemed ok, just businesslike. He was real happy we didn't have to tow his Caddy in here. It'd been boiling over so he thought something major was wrong, but he never bothered to look under the hood. The only thing wrong was his radiator fans; they couldn't run because he had a mesquite branch lodged up in there, jamming them. I worked the branch out, sprayed a little lube on the bearing, and that was it. He was so happy he even tipped us a buck on top of our service call charge."

Joe was about to say something else when we heard a rustle from the front door. I looked, and noticed the newspaper being slipped through the crack under the door. Joe glanced at it and then walked over to pick it up.

"Thaddeus, the last of the big tippers," I laughed, but something was nagging at me and growing stronger by the second. I saw Steve's eyes open wide but I beat him to it and asked, "How the hell did Thaddeus get a mesquite branch lodged in his engine compartment? Was his car real dirty?"

Rob nodded, "Yeah, full Arizona two-tone, covered in dirt halfway up the sides, plus some scratches. I was wondering why the hell he'd ever take a car like that off-pavement. It's a new Cadillac STS V-8, loaded, and that's sixty grand, easy."

Steve nearly yelled, "I'll bet that's who gave Eric a ride out to us. We saw tracks where a vehicle had turned around. The Sheriff said he's take casts of the tread marks. Any way you could get your hands on those tires? If we could get a match, it would sure make things easier."

Rob nodded, grabbing a thick book, and flipping the grease-stained pages before saying, "Michelin V's. 235/50VR17 front, 255/45VR17 rear. That's what that car comes with. Did the front tracks look different from the rear to you?"

Steve shook his head, "I never thought to look for that. I only saw it where it had turned around, the front tracks were a little apart from the rear, but I didn't notice anything different between them. It was on rough ground, so I just hope the Lonesome Valley police get a decent cast from it."

Joe tossed the open newspaper, the 'Lonesome Valley Weekly News' onto the coffee table, "When it rains, it pours. You guys are on the front page, and Eric shooting the cop is the lead story. That porn website is there too. I've glanced through the other three pages and didn't see anything else, but you guys and Eric basically are the front page."

I picked up the paper, staring at the banner headline…

Officer shot by fellow officer's son.

LONESOME VALLEY, Ariz. -- A Lonesome Valley Deputy Sheriff was shot last Saturday while attempting to take a suspect into custody at the residence of a fellow officer. The wounded officer, Jim Jacobs, and the suspect (a minor) struggled briefly. During the struggle, Officer Jacobs' gun discharged, wounding him in the leg. The suspect then fled the scene, eluding two other Lonesome Valley Sheriff's Deputies, one of them the suspect's own father, officer Carl Williams. The suspect was being placed under arrest for allegedly running a hidden-camera operation linked to a pay website. The suspect is, as of press time, still at large…

The story went on to detail the hidden camera and the website, and even mentioned the flyers Thaddeus had posted, and went on to describe the ownership and operational control of the website as… The ownership and control of the pornographic pay site is unknown as of press time, based upon conflicting information.Some sources indicate that the subjects of the website, both of whom are minors and reside at the residence, may have been running the site themselves.

I handed the paper to Steve, before asking Joe, "What the hell is this crap? Let me guess, the newspaper is owned by Thaddeus, too?"

Joe glanced at Rob before replying, "No, I know the guy who owns it. He's also the editor, and the reporter. He sends the copy in electronically, and then the papers are printed in Tucson. He drives down to get them every Friday. Anyway, he seems like an okay guy to me, for a reporter anyway. He usually seems pretty fair, but he's a nosy bastard and won't back off when he thinks he's onto something. I expect you guys will be meeting him soon enough, he's sure to come nosing around."

Rob added, speaking to Steve, "Just have your father run the reporter off if he starts hanging around outside your house. He's been known to do that when he thinks there is a story to uncover."

Steve shrugged, his head sagging his gaze fixing on the faded carpet, "Dad's still away."

I could tell from Steve's body language that his folks being away was bugging him, but Rob didn't catch my warning glance and asked Steve, "Why the hell did they leave town with you two facing attacks, including one at the house?"

Steve's head sank a little lower, "Mom was really freaked out by what was going on. I think she was kinda losing it, so I guess dad felt they had to go. He didn't seem too happy about it."

"Neither do you," said Joe.

I knew I needed to change the topic of conversation in a direction that would cheer up Steve, so I said, "We had a long chat with our lawyer, and we were told not to say much, but it looks like there will be a bunch of arrests due to those pictures of us Eric was posting on the internet."

Steve looked in my direction, giving me a subtle wink, before turning back to Rob and Joe, "Yeah, there's still a major investigation underway. The FBI is checking the website's records for anyone who signed in. Doesn't matter from where, they can read the user's computer address."

Rob became somewhat fidgety, but asked casually, "Why would they be looking for that?"

Steve shrugged, though I could see the telltale slight upturn at the corner of his mouth, "Chris and I are minors, so anyone who downloaded those pictures is trafficking in kiddie porn. The FBI will be looking to bust them. I guess they get a long stretch in jail, plus a complimentary lifelong membership in the registered sex-offenders club."

Joe sputtered, "But there was nothing on the site to say you were minors!"

Steve leaned back in his chair, stretching, before eventually answering, "Doesn't matter. Chris and I are minors, so they will bust everyone who logged in and downloaded pictures. Say, how did you guys know there was nothing on the site about our ages? You couldn't have logged in unless you paid or had a password, and I know Dex wouldn't have given out that."

My side began to ache from holding back my laughter as I watched Rob and Joe exchange frightened looks, the color slowly draining from their faces.

Joe poked Rob in the side with an elbow, whispering far too loud for privacy, "Tell them!"

Rob shook his head, looking for all the world like a deer staring into the headlights of an onrushing car. Seeing such big, tough-looking guys acting like little kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar was almost too much, and I struggled to keep from laughing. I glanced at Steve and I could see him struggling too. I'm sure Rob and Joe would have noticed had they not been so badly rattled.

Joe coughed, his eyes fixed on the floor, "Uh, Rob and I logged in, from Veronica's computer, then from the one here."

Barely keeping my voice steady, I asked, "Why would you guys do that? And how could you do it, you didn't have a password?"

Joe, suddenly finding the arm of his chair positively fascinating, answered, "We, uh, kinda bribed Dex. He told us how to find the site and gave us a password."

"Why would you guys want that? But you should be ok as long as you didn't download any of the x-rated pictures. If you did and the FBI finds them on your computer, I guess you guys are going away for a long, long time." Steve said, and I hoped that they didn't notice his voice cracking slightly.

Rob stood up and walked over to their computer without saying a word. Joe watched him for a moment before informing us;"Um, maybe we did do that, but we should be ok if the FBI doesn't find them on our computer, right?"

I nodded, "I guess so, but make sure you empty the recycle bin after you delete them. Why would you guys download x-rated pictures of minors? Especially us?" I asked, as Rob returned to the room.

Rob sat down again, muttering, "Okay, I deleted the folder, dumped the bin, and set the drive to defrag, they're gone."

I don't know what their answer would have been, because I lost it, doubling over, clutching my side, laughing hysterically. I heard Steve crack up too, and I laughed so hard that my eyes began to water.

Rob and Joe stared at us for close to a minute, until the embarrassed flush on their faces told us that they knew they'd been had.

"Okay, okay, you got us to delete them, very funny…" Joe said with a scowl.

Steve got himself under control enough to answer, "Serves you right for downloading them, you pervs!" Steve lost it again and started laughing so hard he nearly fell out of his chair.

Rob and Joe eventually joined in, laughing a little themselves. After all that had happened in recent days it felt good to laugh, and forget, even for a minute.

Before we left, Rob and Joe promised to let us know if they found out anything and wished Steve luck in getting the Charger back. I could tell from the way they said it that they were not hopeful.

As we drove away Steve and I laughed about what we had pulled on Rob and Joe, and I added, "Now we know that Dex gave them a password as well as telling them how to find the site."

Steve chuckled, "Yeah, we can bug him about that when he gets back. I just hope he cracks that damn data stick."

Steve's mention of the data stick made me think about the difficulty of Dex's task; defeating a very complex encryption system. I just hoped the fact that his keylogger had acquired the first of the two pass phrases would help.

Without warning, I found myself reliving our capture of Eric at Hidden Springs. Something about it was bothering me, bothering me a lot. Steve yelped as I swerved the Jeep off the road, barely missing a large Saguaro cactus, and skidded to a stop in a cloud of dust.

"Steve, I just remembered something. What did Eric say when he got back to the campsite? When he was real pissed off about all the time he'd wasted."

I watched as Steve's eyes glazed over for a second, before he slammed his fist into the dashboard, "Verses! He said he'd spent all afternoon typing in pass phrases and looking up verses, and when Dex's keylogger worked, it recorded Thaddeus typing about Leviticus! Damn, I'll bet that second pass phrase is something in Leviticus! We need to tell Dex…"

When we arrived home, we looked up the number for the motel Dex was staying at in California and gave him a call. All we got was a voicemail box, so we left him a message telling him to try Leviticus passages, starting with the ones his keylogger had sent.

Things were starting to look up, I thought, but after I hung up the phone I found Steve standing in the doorway to the garage, staring morosely at the now-empty space.

I put my arm around him gently and told him, "We'll get it back somehow," hoping that he'd believe me, even though I didn't really believe it myself.

My blood ran cold as Steve mumbled;"Yeah, if you want something done right…" and I hoped that he wasn't going to do anything crazy.

We waited until Monday morning to phone our lawyer, Rick Callahan. We had to recount the entire story again. Rick was far from pleased to learn of the recent developments, especially the Piedmont angle. He reluctantly agreed to our answering some questions from the Piedmont investigators but told us to say nothing without him being present, and that he would end the interview at the first sign that we were being treated as anything other than victims. He phoned us back within the hour to inform us that the interview would take place the following morning in the Lonesome Valley Sheriff's office.

School that day seemed to take forever. Both Steve and I asked around regarding his Charger, but we turned up nothing new. Steve's mood worsened as a result of both that and the prospect of facing the Piedmont investigators.

After a mostly sleepless night spent jumping at every little sound, we got ready for our interview. Fortunately, our sunburns had healed to the point where wearing a shirt and jeans was not painful, but they did itch a little, the irritation adding to our sense of foreboding.

Walking into the Sheriff's station was eerie. It seemed normal enough, but our nerves were on edge. We approached the front desk, which stood crookedly, the battered and dirty wood and peeling veneer seeming to fit right in with the utilitarian station. Rick Callahan turned to greet us, and his reassuring smile was a relief to us both. He nodded for us to follow, and we soon found ourselves seated in Sheriff Buchanan's office. Rick closed the door so the three of us could have privacy before he said, "The Sheriff is letting us use his office for the meeting. He felt it would be a way to send a message to Piedmont that you have his support. The investigators should be here soon, so I'll make this short: when they ask a question, you look at me before saying a word. I don't care how innocent it sounds, or if they are just asking what time it is, you check with me before answering. If I don't nod, you keep your mouths shut. Are we clear on that?"

Steve and I exchanged a worried look, but agreed. Rick glanced around the room, pausing to briefly admire the Sheriff's collection of Old West memorabilia, before adding, "Involvement as your counsel in a criminal matter is not part of my duties or fiduciary in a civil suit. So, normally, I'd be asking for a retainer for dealing with the criminal matters. However, given how I feel about what you guys are facing, plus the fact that I think this might help the civil case eventually, I'm going to handle this pro-bono, and consider it part and parcel of the civil suit. That means no retainer, so wipe those panicked looks off your faces."

Steve and I relaxed a little and thanked Rick. He nodded, smiling wanly, "There've been some new developments in the case, but we'll talk about them after the interview. For now, just relax. I'll end the interview if the investigator so much as breathes funny, so we'll see how it goes."

We took a seat at a long oak table but we didn't have long to wait. A sharp knock at the door was answered by Rick, and after a few hushed words with a Lonesome Valley deputy, two uniformed Piedmont officers walked in. I recognized the first one right away; he had been the deputy who interviewed me in Piedmont the first time Eric stole my Jeep. It was the second officer who made my skin crawl. I'd only seen him once, at the diner in Piedmont, but I'd have recognized him anywhere; Sheriff Johnson, the Piedmont County Sheriff; the man who'd tried so hard to blow my head off.

They walked in casually and took seats across from Steve and me, the sheriff scowling as he settled his ample form into a protesting chair. Rick took a seat at the end of the table, crossing his arms, while two Lonesome Valley deputies stood near the door. Sheriff Johnson turned his head towards the door, barking at the two Lonesome Valley officers, "We don't need you in here. Close the door on your way out."

The Lonesome Valley officers didn't move, nor did they acknowledge the Piedmont Sheriff's order. Rick rapped a pencil on the table, the sharp report startling everyone in the room, and said pleasantly, "Excuse me, Sheriff, but you are in their jurisdiction and they are staying, or this meeting is over."

Rick knew the Sheriff had tried to kill me, but he was pleasant and businesslike, as calm as if he were ordering a new pair of riding boots from a clerk at the feed and grain store. Sheriff Johnson on the other hand, could be read like a book as his face clouded with anger, "Very well. Let's get this over with."

The first question the deputy asked was, "Why did the two of you attempt to frame Eric Williams for running a pornographic website, when if fact the site was controlled by the two of you?"

A sudden 'snap' from the end of the table startled me. I turned to see Rick, with a broken pencil in his hand, announce, "That question was out of line. One more like that and this interview is over. My clients were the victims here, and the only questions they will answer will be related to the crimes that were committed against them and relevant to the prosecution thereof."

Sheriff Johnson leaned back in his chair, eyeing Rick coldly before replying, "There are quite a few crimes to consider here, counselor. Quite a few. All we're trying to do is figure out who did what. So, let's start with this website these two were running…"

Rick stood up, "This interview is over."

Sheriff Johnson made no move to leave. I glanced at his deputy and was surprised to see the deputy staring at his sheriff with a look of irritation on his face.

Rick motioned for Steve and me to follow him out of the room, but before we could reach the door, Sheriff Johnson said to our backs, "Don't make this hard, counselor. Your clients know what needs to be done, and if they have any sense, they'll do it. Consider this your one and only warning."

We left the room as my blood ran cold. We followed Rick a few paces down the hallway before he turned to us, "They were on a fishing expedition, and they sure as hell aren't playing by the book. That's okay, because neither are we. Let's watch."

Rick turned back towards the office we had just exited, just as Sheriff Johnson ambled out, an arrogant scowl on his face. He was met by Sheriff Buchanan, and the two sheriffs eyed each other grimly; it was starkly obvious that there was no love lost between the two of them. The Piedmont Sheriff moved to leave, but Sheriff Buchanan held up his hand, "Not so fast. I didn't think you'd be dumb enough to come here in person, but here you are. When I saw you enter the building, I couldn't believe my luck. Hand over your gun, Johnson. I've got probable cause to believe you used it in an illegal shooting."

"You ain't getting my gun, Buchanan. Any shooting that occurred, if it occurred, was in MYcounty, so you don't have fucking jurisdiction."

Sheriff Buchanan smiled coldly, "Nope, my lab guy checked the vehicle you were firing at. Given where it was hit, there's no way it could have made it from the county line to where it quit. You also failed to report the use of deadly force to the Department of Public Safety, as required by law. Now, hand over your gun and get out of here, or me and my deputies will take it, and throw youin mylockup."

The ensuing silence was deafening. Sheriff Johnson's hand rested on the butt of his gun, and his deputy glanced around nervously. But with two Lonesome Valley deputies behind him, and two more plus the sheriff himself boxing him in, Sheriff Johnson knew when to call it a day, "Here, you son-of-a-bitch. You haven't heard the last of this," he said, as he grudgingly handed over his gun.

©Copyright 2007 C James; All Rights Reserved.
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Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent.  The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!"

Many thanks to Conner for editing, support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions on this chapter.
Many thanks also to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions (and for thinking up a title!).

Thanks also to Shadowgod, for beta reading and advice, and for putting up with me.
Any remaining errors are mine alone.

Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

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  • Site Administrator

Although the Charger is missing, I can’t help but feel that last scene was one for the win column!

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Sheriff Johnson just shot himself in the foot.  Let's hope gangrene sets in and finishes him off.  I am happy that Chris remembered Eric's mention of verses.  Rob and Joe got a little shock, and Chris and Steve a little payback.  I can't be too hard on Rob and Joe, since I would probably do the same.:gikkle:

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