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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 - 25. Thicker than Water

Sheriff Buchanan, to my surprise, didn't take Sheriff Johnson's gun, but stood aside as a Lonesome Valley deputy, wearing gloves, took the revolver and carefully placed it in an evidence bag, while avoiding the Piedmont Sheriff's withering glare.

The Piedmont Sheriff warned again, "This ain't over, Buchanan, not by a long shot," as he turned and lumbered out of the building, his rattled deputy bringing up the rear.

Sheriff Buchanan smiled coldly, calling out after the departing Sheriff Johnson, "Oh, you're right, it sure isn't."

Rick cracked a grin and told us, "We didn't think he'd be dumb enough to come here in person, but we planned for it, just in case. Now we have both his gun and his fingerprints. The bullet that ended up in the back of your Jeep's seat was hardly distorted at all, so we should get a ballistics match, assuming that he used the same gun. Given his arrogance and his reaction, I'm betting that he did. As for the fingerprints, those could come in very useful indeed."

I was struck speechless by what I'd seen, but Steve wasn't, and he quickly asked, "Why did you need the Sheriff's prints?"

Sheriff Buchanan walked up, grinning from ear to ear, and answered Steve's question, "That CO2 tranquilizer dart rifle rattled me when you turned it in; I thought it was from my own damn gun locker. A few years ago we had a drought which caused a problem: bears and mountain lions kept coming into towns, including this one, so the Department of Public Safety issued us that tranquilizer dart rifle. After a few uses it got put in a locker here at the station, and there it sat, for over ten years or thereabouts. I checked, and ours is still there. I made a few phone calls and found that when we got ours, Piedmont got one just like it. Nobody kept a serial number, but I'm betting Piedmont's is missing right about now. We also lifted a partial print off it, one that does not match Eric Williams. I'll need prints from both of you to exclude your own, but we recovered three sets of prints from the Jeep, and it does not seem to match any of them. That's why I wanted that fat bastard's gun and his prints; if I get a match, it'll go a long way towards proving that he gave that rifle to the suspect."

Rick shrugged, "Giving Eric the rifle wasn't in itself illegal. But it's sure as hell illegal if he gave it with knowledge of its likely use. The lab tech also found the darts themselves in one of the backpacks, and if push comes to shove the needles will show your DNA, proving that you were shot with the things."

Steve looked puzzled, "Eric said he supplied the Ketamine for the darts. If the Piedmont Sheriff gave him the damn rifle and darts, why wouldn't he have given him the tranquilizer, too?"

Sheriff Buchanan shook his head, "That stuff has a limited shelf-life. The tranquilizer that came with our rifle is years out of date, I checked. It probably wouldn't work. So, your brother apparently supplied his own."

Things were beginning to make sense, and at last, we had some hope. We told the Sheriff and Rick about the branch in Thaddeus' Cadillac, and asked about the castings for the tire tracks.

Sheriff Buchanan shook his head, "We did get some castings, but the tracks were poor and had been exposed to the wind for a few hours. The best we will get is a likely tire type, but not enough to ID a specific vehicle."

Finally, Steve broached the question of his Charger, and that it had been seen parked downtown, and then heading for Piedmont. The Sheriff gave us the bad news straight, "If it's in Piedmont, and Sheriff Johnson is involved, I don't see any good way to get it back without hard proof that it's there. If we get hard proof, I can probably pull a few strings and get the Department of Public Safety involved. DPS almost never handles stolen vehicle cases, but they might in this case if I ask right, but I can't do a damn thing without proof. Even if I interview your witness, you said it was seen heading for Piedmont, not inPiedmont. So, I hope that car was insured. I hate to say it, but it's probably in a million pieces by now."

Steve hung his head, "Yeah, but the insurance won't pay much, and I've put a lot of work into that car."

We walked out into the parking lot with Rick, and I asked, "Have you any ideas about what is going on? It looks like Eric is working with both Thaddeus and the Piedmont Sheriff, but why the hell did they set up those hidden cameras?"

"All I have are guesses right now. My best guess is Thaddeus and the Piedmont Sheriff are in cahoots. That number Eric tried to call with your phone was Thaddeus', and my best guess is Eric was working with them but on his own hook too, so Thaddeus and the sheriff were not involved with the cameras. Or, they were involved and wanted to frame you guys somehow. Remember what that scumball sheriff said in there about knowing what you need to do? I think a lot of this crap is being done just to put the pressure on. Whatever was on that data stick must be something they need desperately. Maybe Eric was acting as a connection between them and somebody else. I just don't know at this point, because no matter how I figure it, some pieces just don't add up," Rick sighed, giving us both pats on the back, "Just hang in there, everything will turn out okay."

We drove home, and Steve's mood grew darker yet. That car was a piece of him, and I think he could have dealt with losing it any other way, but not to Eric, and not to Piedmont. I suspected that it wasn't just the car; it was the sum total of everything that had been done to us, but the Charger must have been the straw that broke the camel's back.

Steve wasn't very talkative that night. I could tell that he was trying to be upbeat, but failing. His shoulders slumped a little, and he stared at a picture of his parents a lot. He wasn't even interested in sex, which was a first for him.

We spent some time installing a heavy bolt on my apartment door and slept in my apartment for the first time since the attackers had kicked in my door.

The following morning I dropped Steve off at school before heading for college. He told me that he'd get a ride home from Chad after swim practice, as I had to work. I watched him walk away, almost shuffling. I wished there was something that I could do, but I was fresh out of ideas.

My classes seemed to drag by, because I was worried about Steve. I did receive a comment or two about the website, but by and large it seemed to be old news, well on its way to being forgotten, for which I was grateful.

I arrived at the bookstore by noon, to find Betty being her usual irascible self. I helped her with some restocking, and had to give her all the details about the attack on my apartment, the camping trip, and the theft of Steve's car. She was, for once, speechless.

Unfortunately, her speechless state was not to last. She didn't like the way I had ordered the books on one of the shelves, and insisted that it be done 'right'. She had me watch as she pulled every book from the shelf, piling them haphazardly on the floor, and then put them back, ordered by size. While she did this, she explained the virtues of visual aesthetics in retail sales. Once she was done, she stood back, her hands on her hips, smiling at her work. I watched her closely, wondering how long it would take her to figure out what had happened.

Her smile faded as she ran her eyes along the re-arranged shelf. Finally, she turned to me, "If you value your life, you will notpoint out that the books are now exactly like you had them."

I ducked away, struggling not to laugh. Betty glared at me, grabbing a broom and threatening to bring it down on my head, "Okay, wise guy, like you haven't made your share of mistakes."

We both shared a laugh over that. Betty could be a real character at times, but she had a good heart and I liked her.

The store phone rang, startling us both. Betty answered it, and then handed it to me, "For you, wise guy."

It was Veronica. "Hey Chris. Any idea where Steve is?"

I told her that he had practice and would be getting a ride home from Chad.

Veronica paused before telling me, "Good. I don't want him knowing about this because he might just go and do something stupid, knowing him. I asked around about his car. I had to give the cook two hundred, and the news isn't good. Steve's car is going to be chopped up at a scrap yard, sometime tonight. The cook's cousin works there and he said they were told they would have to do it quick. Any chance you can get the State Police out here fast?"

I remembered what Sheriff Buchanan had told me, "Not without hard proof. Offer the cook some more money and see if he'll corroborate the story to the police, which might be enough."

"No chance," she said, sighing, "I already tried. He's on parole and won't have anything to do with the cops. Plus, his cousin works at the scrap yard and is probably involved. The Charger isn't there yet anyway, but will be moved there later today."

"Where is it now?" I asked, wondering if I was really dumb enough to do what I was thinking of doing.

"Nobody knows, or, if they do they aren't talking. And guess what, Steve's brother is staying with the sheriff again."

And if Eric was there, and they needed to hide a car... "Does the Sheriff have a garage at his house?" I asked, as casually as I could manage.

I heard a laugh from the other end of the line, "He's got several. His house is the old mining company headquarters at the end of Oak Street; looks like a big old Victorian place, by far the biggest house in town. I drove by once, that day I was out looking for you when the Sheriff was chasing you, it's a gated property, so you can't see much from the street. Want me to swing by and try to spot the Charger?"

Shaking my head in spite of being on a phone, I replied, "Not much point. If it's there, it will be hidden. Any chance of seeing into the scrap yard from the street?"

"Nope, it's fenced and you can't see much of the workshops from the road. I was thinking of parking nearby so I could spot the Charger, but the scrap yard has entrances on two different streets and it's only a few blocks from the Sheriff's house. Come to think of it, there might be a back way into the Sheriff's place too. I can try, but I don't have a camera."

I didn't want Veronica to put herself at risk and I knew that once the Charger entered the scrap yard, it would be in pieces long before we could get the Department of Public Safety involved. "Not much point," I said, downcast, "we couldn't do much even if you spotted it."

Veronica rang off after giving me one last piece of advice, "Whatever you do, don't tell Steve, not today anyway. I know him; he'd try something stupid and get himself killed. I only told you in case you could get the State Police to do something. Promise me you won't tell Steve."

I quickly agreed. I knew, better than Veronica in fact, that Steve probably would try something if he knew, and I could think of only one sure way to prevent that.

After giving Veronica my solemn promise that I wouldn't tell Steve about his car, I hung up, to find Betty glaring at me. "I know that look. Empty-headed gay boys look like that when they are about to be morons," she said.

Smiling weakly, I answered, "Steve loves that car, and if I can get proof it's there, it would help in our fight against the Piedmont Sheriff and probably Reverend Thaddeus as well. I have to try. I, uh, I guess I need the rest of the day off."

"No, no, no, and hell no." Betty shouted, "This has got to be the worst idea ever, so no, you can't have the day off."

Our eyes met, and Betty calmed down slightly, "I guess you'll go no matter what I say. And just how do you plan on getting there? That Jeep of yours would be spotted by the Piedmont cops in a New York Minute."

I gave Betty my most endearing smile, "You could give me a ride..."

"Are you out of your fucking mind? Did it ever occur to you that I have more enjoyable ways to spend an afternoon than driving a batshit-crazy gay boy, who happens to be a minor, into a freaking death trap?"

"I'm an emancipated minor," I said, having no real argument against the rest of her diatribe.

"Yeah, some fat lot of good that will do us if the bullets start flying. Have you managed to forget that the last time you set foot in Piedmont, you ended up being chased out of town in a hail of lead?" Betty growled.

"Steve loves that car, and he's been through a lot, you know he has. His own brother tried to kill him. You haven't seen him lately; he's not himself. It's like he's dying inside."

Betty sighed, "After all the crap that has happened, he's upset over a car? Goddamn it, if you two had half a brain you'd be dangerous... If I don't give you a ride, you're going anyway, and in your Jeep, aren't you?"

I nodded, as Betty threw up her hands, asking the ceiling, "How do I get myself into these messes?"

Pulling out my cell phone I asked, "This thing has a camera on it, right?"

Snatching the phone from my hands, Betty examined it and nodded, "Yeah, that little lens should be a clue that even you could figure out. All you need to do is point the thing at whatever you want a picture of, and then hit the 'camera' button. Think you can remember something that complicated, you idiot?"

"Got it. So, will you give me a ride into Piedmont?"

"I know I'll regret this, but maybe. Tell me what you have planned and I'll think about it."

I leaned back against the counter, "I want to get a picture of Steve's Charger, in either the Sheriff's garage or the scrap yard. If I get that, I'll have enough to get the state police out there maybe. They are moving the car into the scrap yard this afternoon. I think it's in the sheriff's garage right now, so all I'd need to do is hide in the bushes nearby and snap a photo of it coming out of his property. I gotta try something; Steve would be crushed if anything happened to that car. We also need the evidence to take down Thaddeus and the sheriff."

Betty rammed her index finger into my chest, "And just how do you think Steve will feel if his stupid, moronic, shit-for-brains boyfriend gets himself killed over that damn car?"

I didn't answer, I couldn't. I knew she was right, but I had to do something.

"Ok, you idiot, the only reason I'll take you is that I know you'd try it in your Jeep if I didn't. I guess I've also got a soft spot for anything that might hurt that homophobic windbag, Thaddeus. I guess I've got to close up my shop early today, damn you."

Betty began programming my phone with her number, and entered mine into her own cell. She handed the phone back to me, "Keep this thing on silent or vibrate only, not off. If you run into trouble, don't expect me to come in after you. Keep the hell out of sight, and just get the picture. Don't you dare try to get Steve's car out, or I'll strangle you myself."

After locking the front door and putting up the 'closed' sign, she led me out via the back door. Before going out I asked, "Think we should take your SKS along?"

"If I thought we'd need that, we wouldn't be going. But," she opened her handbag and half withdrew a snub-nosed nickel-plated revolver, "I never go anywhere without my LadySmith .357"

I found myself wishing that I had something like that, but I didn't. We left the store and Betty, without a word, opened the trunk of her old sedan. I had barely climbed in when she slammed the lid. As my ears rang I heard her snarl, "I have every mind to either leave you in there, or drive your stupid ass home and let Steve deal with you."

After hearing Betty climb in and fire up her car, I winced as she spun her rear wheels on the gravel parking lot. I knew I was in for a long, uncomfortable ride.

The ride to Piedmont seemed to take forever, and then longer. I lay in the darkness, wondering if I was making a huge mistake. I hoped not; I figured I could lurk in the bushes, snap a couple of pictures, and be gone before anyone saw me. Not that big a risk, really, or so I tried to make myself believe.

I heard the car come to a halt, and nearly slammed my head against the trunk lid as my phone unexpectedly began to vibrate in my pocket. Betty's voice came through loud and clear, "We're at the traffic light. Where do you want to go?"

"Go to three blocks past Oak Street, then hang a right and stop about halfway down the street," I said.

I felt Betty take the turn, and then heard the car come to a slow stop. "I'm under a tree, next to a vacant lot with tall weeds. I don't see anyone around. I'll pop the trunk, then head downtown and park to wait for your call."

I called out my thanks, and heard the trunk latch clang. The trunk popped open a few inches and I peeked out, squinting against the glare. I didn't see anyone; just a quiet street, with an overgrown patch of weeds just a dozen feet away. I took a deep breath and opened the trunk. Scrambling out, I crouched down and kept low. I darted to the side of the car and then made a dash for the cover offered by the dry weeds. I ducked into them, feeling the dry scratches against the skin of my arms. I heard Betty pull away, and waited for a few minutes before raising my head and furtively looking around.

The street was, I was relieved to see, deserted. I could see what could only be the Sheriff's house, a hundred yards away at the far end of the street. I was amazed; no way could he afford a spread like that on a Sheriff's pay. Looking behind me, I saw, through the weeds, a drainage ditch at the back of the lot. It ran in the direction of the Sheriff's house, and I hoped it would be good cover. I trotted over, keeping low, and ducked down into the dusty ditch.

The ditch was only a few feet deep, but it ran under the wire fencing at the edge of the lot. I kept low and scurried under the fence, and passed the two small 1950s homes that adjoined the Sheriff's property. The ditch was blocked at the Sheriff's property line by a wrought-iron fence, but I was at the boundary. Skirting to the right, I followed the fence around to the back of his property. I saw that Veronica was right; he had a gate and a driveway on the back side too, connecting to a rutted dirt street. As I neared the gate, I ducked into an Oleander bush and found that I could see through the fence into the back of the property while remaining hidden.

I waited, seeing nothing. I felt sweat trickle down my back, more from nerves than the desert heat. I hoped that nothing would go wrong, and that I'd get what I came for. Steve's car was a big part of my reason for my excursion to Piedmont, but another part, one I hadn't told anyone, was that I wanted to get evidence against the Sheriff. If I could get something, anything, we would be a lot closer to ending this battle. I flipped open my cell and checked the time, wondering how long it would be before they moved the car. What if they already had? I glanced nervously towards the house; no sign of activity. I could see the back window of the garage, and toyed with the idea of scaling the fence and having a look inside, but that would be taking one hell of a risk. I'd have probably tried it, if I still had a key to the Charger and some way of opening the gates.

I glanced west, up the dirt road, a road enclosed by old breadbox houses and newer trailers, all sitting in patches of weeds, a stark contrast to the Sheriff's palatial home. I knew that the scrap yard was just a few blocks away, and I had no way of knowing whether the Charger was actually in the Sheriff's garage. The more I thought about it, the more I felt that he'd be smart enough to stash it elsewhere.

I considered working my way back to where Betty had dropped me off, and phoning her to ask her to pick me up and take me to the scrap yard. I would have, if I knew I had the time, but as far as I knew, time was running out.

There didn't appear to be any way to head west towards the scrap yard and stay under cover, so I stepped out of the bush, hoping that no one saw me, and began walking up the road, trying to look like I had nothing to hide. Or, so I hoped.

As I walked, I felt incredibly exposed, on show to everyone, and I was fearful that someone would recognize me. I could only think of one thing that might help make me a little less recognizable, so I pulled off my white T-shirt tying it around my head like a cap, hoping that hiding my hair would be better than nothing.

I only knew approximately where the scrap yard was, and I was beginning to doubt that I'd find it after having gone only a couple of blocks. I heard a familiar rumble behind me, and glanced over my shoulder to see Steve's Charger pulling out of the sheriff's gate. As fast as I could without being obvious, I reached for my cell phone and flipped it open. I wanted to try for a picture, but the growing noise behind me told me that I was too late. I put the phone to my ear to hide my face as the Charger roared past in a blur of tan, chrome, and dust. I didn't dare look to see who was driving, and I was about to lower the phone when I heard a second vehicle rapidly approaching from behind me.

I swallowed hard as a police cruiser ground past, with the Piedmont Sheriff's familiar bulky profile at the wheel. I held my breath, but he didn't stop or slow down. I watched as the Charger, followed by the Sheriff, turned left a block and a half ahead. I kept walking, fighting the urge to run and hide.

Remembering Veronica's comment that the scrap yard had access to two streets, I took a side street to my left, hoping to find an unobserved yet safe vantage point. The ramshackle old trailers mainly blocked my view, but I caught a glimpse of the Charger nosing into a rusty metal building, on what was likely its last drive.

I rounded the last corner, forcing myself to keep an unhurried pace. The weeds were tall and thick along the scrap yard's chain-link fence, but my view of the building was blocked by stacked cars. Even if I could see the building, I had no way to see inside. I kicked myself for thinking that they would leave the Charger in plain view; of course they would take it inside.

Wading through the dry, brittle weeds, I looked at the bottom of the fence; it seemed loose enough that I could probably scramble under it. I crouched down, testing the fence by pulling it, but wondered; was I insane? The Sheriffwas in there... But if I didn't, this whole trip would be for nothing and any hope of getting evidence on the sheriff or saving Steve's Charger would be long gone. I wished that I could have gotten a photo of the Charger leaving the sheriff's home, followed by him, but I hadn't.

Easing down to lie on the ground, I pulled my shirt off my head and rolled over onto my back. I used my shirt to pad the sharp edges as I lifted the bottom of the fence and scooted underneath. Once I was through, I was still shielded by the rusty columns of stacked cars, which gave me some much-needed cover. I began pulling my shirt on, but realized that white was not a good color to wear while sneaking around. My tan skin, even though it was still pretty red in places, would be less likely to draw someone's eye compared to stark white, so I tossed my shirt by the fence.

Working my way through the maze of rusted wrecks, I stayed low, keeping to the cover, until I reached the side of the corroded metal building.

Hiding behind a stack of old, bald tires, I took a quick look around. I couldn't see any way to reach the front of the building without breaking cover. I could hear voices inside, too faint to understand, but loud enough to know that someone was angry.

The nearby creak of neglected hinges startled me. I crouched further down, hearing voices outside, and risked a quick glance around the pile of tires. Two guys in oil-stained overalls were walking away from the front of the building, engaged in an animated conversation. Rubbing my sweaty palms on my jeans, I hoped that the grease-monkeys would keep going and not double back, trapping me against the building.

I knew I had to get a look inside, but how... I worked my way along the side of the building, heading towards the back, hoping to find a way in, or at least a hole that I could see and hear through. I was nearly at the back corner of the structure when I found my way blocked by stacks of old radiators. I turned to work my way around them, but as I glanced back to check behind me, I saw something that I'd passed by; the rusted-out bottom of one of the corrugated metal sheets that formed the building's wall.

Hurrying over to the corroded metal, I dropped to my knees, seeing that the metal had rusted through in places. I looked through one of the holes, only to find my view blocked by a wall of parts trays a few feet inside the building. Placing my ear against a hole, I could hear, a little, and recognized the sheriff's booming voice, but I still couldn't make out what was being said.

I gently pulled at the corroded metal, my reward coming as a large piece crumbled in my hand. Grabbing the bottom of the metal sheet, right where it rested on the concrete slab upon which the building stood, I pulled back. The metal moved slightly, before letting go with a 'snap' that sounded, to me, louder than any gunshot. I froze, holding my breath, waiting for the response from the people within, but it never came.

Breathing again, though my heart was still pounding in my ears, I eased the pieces of crumbling metal to the ground and surveyed my work; I'd created a ragged hole roughly a foot high and two feet wide.

Listening for any change in the arguing voices, I laid flat on my back and shuffled through the hole, breathing in as the jagged shards of the uneven edge came within inches of my bare chest. I sat up as soon as I was far enough inside, brushing up against the trays of car parts, before twisting sideways to pull my legs through the hole.

Crouching down, barely breathing, I let my eyes adjust to the semi-darkness. The smell of grease and dust permeated the air, and soon, I could see that I was in a walkway between the wall, and stacks of parts trays, boxes, and miscellaneous cobweb-covered automotive junk. I crept towards the front end of the building, cringing as every tiny sound that I made.

I was almost close enough to hear what was being said, but I had no way to record it. I mentally kicked myself for not finding out if my phone had that feature. I also realized that I could have run into the electronics store near Betty's bookstore and bought a recorder, but it was way too late for that now.

One thing I could do, though, was make a phone call. I knew the number to the Lonesome Valley Sheriff's office, and I could tell them to record the call, and then just put the phone close enough to pick up the voices. I was happy with my plan, right up until I flipped open the phone, only to see the familiar "no signal" warning.

I wanted to curse, but I couldn't. I had no way to record anything, so a photo looked to be my only hope. I started creeping forward again, drawing nearer to the muffled raised voices ahead.

The sheriff's voice was easy to recognize, "This better be the last time. One more fuck-up and you're done, got that?"

Another voice, very familiar, replied angrily, "It's not my fault. I set up this deal, remember? I had the contacts, and I even kicked in a few grand. I gave you guys an ear inside the Lonesome Valley Sheriff's Department, and I set up the deal with Blackheart."

Eric sounded as angry as he'd been at Hidden Springs. The sheriff roared, "Damn your hide, you fucked everything up with that blackmail scheme and then those fucking cameras. That cost us the info from this Blackheart character and it cost us our tap into the Lonesome Valley investigations. Why the hell did you have to go and pull that crap? Do you have any fucking idea how much its cost us?"

Eric grumbled, "Yeah, I know exactly how much, you and Thaddeus let me know when you said it'd come out of my share. Yeah, maybe blackmailing my brother and his friggin' boyfriend wasn't a good idea, but they seemed like easy marks. I had my reasons for the cameras and website; you know full well Blackheart wanted another fifty grand to replace what he sent since you and Thaddeus wouldn't pay it; you said it was my doing and I had to fix it, so I tried. The cameras were working, making some good money. It gave me a way to eavesdrop, maybe I could've found out what they did with that damn data thing, and it could've given Thaddeus some good ammo later. Blackheart helped me on the software side, told me what to buy for the cameras and shit, but the fucking sound wouldn't record. Blackheart was away at some concert in Vegas and offline, so I couldn't ask how to fix it, and the only way I could eavesdrop was to do it live. I couldn't do that too often with the 'rents watching me like a hawk, and I never heard the guys mention the data thing once. How the hell could I know they'd find the fucking cameras? Hell, you shot at Chris and then you took your gun to Lonesome Valley and just let their sheriff take it, so you screwed up worse than I did."

I waited for the sheriff to kill Eric, but instead he said calmly, "You don't seem to get it. You came up with the idea to jump them at that campsite, and you came to me, all tweaked out, wanting a tranquilizer rifle. You said you could handle the takedown, questioning, and disposal. Damn fool that I am, I believed you, and I let you handle it because I had other business that needed attending, but you fucked it all up, again. If blood weren't thicker than water, I'd kill you myself. Don't think I won't if I have to, and I sure as hell will if I ever catch you doing business while high on Meth again."

Eric coughed once, "Yeah, right. Like you could have gotten up to their campsite with all that lard you carry. And don't threaten me, 'cause you need me to pull this deal off. I'm pretty sure my brother tricked me and gave me some kind of fake, because I tried every damn translation of Leviticus 18:22 after the one Thaddeus had didn't work, just in case there was a screw-up and Blackheart used the wrong version of the bible. I talked Blackheart into verifying the contents and he says it's a fake, not a re-encrypt. He won't replace what he sent without being paid, but he guarantees that the pass phrases you and Thaddeus picked out will unlock the real file if it's on the real data stick and unaltered. We just need to get it back, and I've got a few ideas how to put the pressure on."

The sheriff growled, "I've had just about enough of your hair-brained schemes, boy. One more fuck-up and you are out of this deal. We laid out another fifty grand in equipment and supplies ready for that data, all of it sitting down there, doing fuck-all. I mean it, just one more fuck-up, and you're out."

No one spoke for a while, though the tension was almost palpable. I heard a jabber of approaching voices, and I guessed that the grease-monkeys had returned from wherever they had gone. The sheriff wasted no time;"Give me my money and get this damn thing cut up right now. Remember the deal; I'm giving you a good price and my continued protection, but you make damn sure that every serial number is off the parts before they leave here, understood?"

I heard an unfamiliar voice agree, and knew that I had no hope of saving Steve's Charger. There just wasn't time. What I needed was proof against the sheriff, and the only thing I could think of was a photo of him next to the car, taking the money. I knew I had to move fast; I crept along the wall of crates until I found a gap, just a few feet from where I'd been. Peeking through the gap, I was rewarded by a glimpse of a familiar tan fender; Steve's Charger. I edged down the gap between the piles, trying to be as silent as the grave, until at last I found what I needed; an old bench, piled high with carburetors in various states of decay. Looking under the bench revealed more crates of parts, but a wide gap between them that went through to the other side.

Crawling on my elbows and knees, the cell phone in my hands, I edged forward, to see the sheriff just a dozen feet in front of me, beside Steve's car. One of the mechanics was counting out crisp green banknotes into the Sheriff's open hand. I couldn't wish for a better picture.

I edged forward the final inches, holding my breath, and pointed the phone at the sheriff, shielding the display with my other hand to hide the faint blue light it emitted. I pressed down on the camera button, becoming suddenly and acutely aware of something that Betty had neglected to tell me; in low light, the phone has a bright white light that acts like a flash for taking pictures. Eric, the sheriff, and the mechanics all whipped their heads around to look in my direction.

My heart was racing, but I was stuck under a table, as my prior nervousness became pure stark terror. A dazzling white light blasted me in the face, and I tried to edge back, away from the mechanic's flashlight beam, but it was too late.

I heard the sheriff bellow;"Get Him!" and watched in horror as he drew 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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The sheriff said blood is thicker than water or he’d kill Eric...how are they related? Nobody has mentioned the sheriff being a cousin or any blood relative before so is Eric adopted? I mean that’s the only thing I can think of if you take his words to mean they are blood related as otherwise I would assume they’d know if they were related to the Piedmont sheriff. I’m worried about Chris but I’m sure he’ll survive.

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Great to get the picture, but a lot of good it will do when Chris gets caught!  Yeah, I want to know why the Sheriff said "blood is thicker than water".  The suspense is building.

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