They all sat there waiting in Sheriff Daniels' cramped lobby inside the small building that served as his field office. Because Silver Lode wasn't the county seat, the town lacked a spacious administrative headquarters for its sheriff. Most of the time, Daniels spent his time in a larger town some miles away but he ventured out to Silver Lode several times a week to conduct business, most of it conducted behind closed doors with Parker or at the corner booth of Silver Lode's only watering hole.
A woman sat doing some paperwork and answering phones while they waited. She had told them Daniels was in transit and would be in his office within the hour.
"He's the one who called us," Jed said.
"Why did he change his mind about investigating," FIONA said, "He told us the other day he thought it was an accident."
"I don't think he wants to investigate," Chance said, "I think he wants to control any investigation that takes place."
Both Fiona and Jed looked at him.
"I think you're right," Jed said.
"Well, I'll give him about 10 minutes and leave because I have tons of work to do," Fiona said.
"I'll give him less than that," Chance said.
Suddenly, the door opened and Daniels walked through it accompanied by a deputy. He introduced himself and went through the motions of shaking their hands.
"Come with me to my office," he said.
They followed him to a surprisingly spacious room for such a small building. He had a nicely-crafted desk made of oak and numerous photographs of himself and other law enforcement officers hung on the wall as well as several where he had posed with elected officials.
They sat down and looked at him. He smiled and folded his hands on his desk, clearing his throat.
"I guess you're wondering why I called you all down here in the middle of the day," he said.
"We had a betting pool in the lobby about what your motives are," Chance said.
Daniels scrutinized him.
"And you flew into our lovely town to assist Ms Parsons after her…accident?"
"I thought you were doing an investigation of this…accident," Fiona said.
"Yes I am," he said, "And I'm personally overseeing the detectives who are assigned to look into this. In fact, my agency has authorized the removal of the vehicle from the gorge."
Jed looked at Chance.
"Did you send your forensic guys down there to take photos and examine the vehicle for trace evidence first," Chance said.
"Of course we did Mr. Houston," he answered," What do you think we are? This isn't Mayberry. We're a professionally certified law enforcement agency."
"I'm not doubting your credentials," Chance said, "I'm more concerned about your intentions."
"Why do you doubt us when you just got into town yesterday?"
"Because this investigation should have started yesterday not today, after the state police announced that it was conducting its own probe."
"That agency is free to do so," Daniels said, "But that's a separate matter. We have our own investigation to conduct."
"So will we be updated on your…investigation," F Fiona said.
"Of course you will," Daniels said, "And we may need to interview you and the other survivors."
"One of them's in a coma right now so that might be difficult."
"We're sorry about such a tragic incident happening just outside our town," he said, "But there's not much we can do if it turns out that the driver fell asleep behind the wheel because he's been pulling too many late nights working."
"He did not fall asleep at the wheel," Fiona said, "I know, I was there."
"So what happened then," Daniels asked.
Fiona remained silent.
"You can't tell me or you won't?"
Chance stood up.
"Is this an official interview of a witness," he said.
"No, just an observation followed by a question," Daniels said, "I'll notify her when it's time for an interview."
F Fiona rolled her eyes.
"I'll take that under advisement," she said.
She got up and started walking out.
"Do you have anything else to tell us," Jed said.
"No, I think that's about all for now," Daniels said, "Still, it might be best to be careful out there on those roads. You just don't know what can happen."
"What exactly are you trying to imply without saying it," Chance said.
"Nothing…Mr. Houston," Daniels said, smiling, "Nothing at all."
They walked out to the parking lot.
"Nothing is right," Fiona said, "I knew there really wasn't going to be an investigation and I have no intention of giving an eyewitness account."
"I'd be careful about telling Daniels or his men too much," Jed said, "We don't know how many different payrolls he's on."
"He wouldn't be the first dirty cop I ever met," Chance said.
"I'm hoping he's my last."
"You guys head back," Fiona said, "I've got to go check on my car."
"Is it ready," Chance asked.
"They said they'd tell me when I arrived," she said, "Besides I'm going to City Hall to check out some old records."
"Who'll give you a lift back to the ranch if you can't get your car?"
"Bonnie," Fiona said, "Oh by the way, we're having dinner at her house tonight."
"Okay," Chance said, "That sounds great."
He kissed her briefly on the mouth.
"I'll see you later," he said leaving with Jed.
Jed and Chance drove back to the ranch.
"So do you think Daniels is in the middle of all this or just a hired hand?"
"I'd sure like to find out," Chance said, "We know Parker's on someone's payroll. But what about the rest of the city council members?"
"I doubt it," Jed said, "But it doesn't really matter because they let Parker take the lead on almost every land deal."
"So this isn't the first time developers have come to Silver Lode looking to buy property?"
"Hardly," he said, "But they wind up picking up parcels mostly in the valley miles away in the other direction. I think some partners in a chain of day spas wanted to set up a resort there."
"Were there any challenges?"
"Not really," Jed said, "It didn't turn out to be as intrusive as a ski resort and some of the ranchers' wives spend time at the place themselves to get away from their husbands."
"What about Kilroy and his partners," Chance said, "Have they ever been interested in developing any other projects in this area?"
Jed shook his head.
"I think they're mostly back East, creating and building summer resorts for the rich crowd."
"Maybe it's time to find out if Kilroy and his buddies have used similar scare tactics in the past to get rid of their opposition."
"That shouldn't be too difficult to do," Jed said, "What's your plan?"
"I'll give my partner out in L.A. a call and see if he can help us there."
Fiona talked to Joe, who had hauled himself out from beneath an old truck when she arrived and wiped off his face with a rag.
"I'm just about done with your car," Joe said, "Your problem was a leak in the oil line."
"I just checked the oil not too long ago," she said, "It was fine."
"The line definitely had a leak," Joe said, "You're lucky you didn't damage your engine."
"So when can I pick it up?"
"In about an hour," he said.
Fiona left but her mind lingered on the news about her damaged oil line. She knew that there hadn't been any problem with her car until the other night when it wouldn't start. Did someone damage the line deliberately? She remembered what Cassidy had said about hearing the noises outside the cabin and the strange footprints she had found in the dirt. Did someone do something to the car back then? Still, she had no evidence that her car had been tampered with by anyone but her suspicions stayed with her.
She walked towards City Hall when suddenly Sydney Roth came up to her. She knew that Sydney wrote for the Silver Lode Daily and had been covering the meetings at City Hall which had addressed the ski resort project. She also knew that her eyes followed every man in blue jeans.
"Hey, Ms Parsons, can I have a moment of your time?"
Fiona stopped and looked at the reporter.
"That's about all I have right now," she said.
"I understand you were in an accident the other night," Sydney said, whipping out her notepad.
"Yes, I and the two other attorneys were involved in a vehicle crash that left the other two suffering serious injuries and having to be hospitalized."
"You're still working on the case?"
"Yes, I have no intention of doing anything else," Fiona said, "There's still a lot of work to be done on the permanent injunction papers but that will be completed and filed with the U.S. District Court on time."
"I understand that you had to hire a body guard to protect you," Sydney said, "Why would you need to take those steps if it was just an accident?"
"I didn't hire a body guard," she said, "Chance Houston is an investigator who owns an agency out in L.A. who was retained to do some of the field work in this case given that there's a shortage of people right now."
"I know that he's also the recipient of the "Sexist Multi-Millionaire Alive" according to People magazine last year.
"Yes he is," she said, "You know if you want to do a personality profile on him, I could give you his card and you can give him a call."
"No need," Sydney said, "I do plan on interviewing Mr. Houston for a future article. After all, it's not often we have a real celebrity in our midst."
Fiona stifled a laugh.
"That's great," she said, "Now if you're finished, I've really got to get going."
"I think I've asked all of my questions…for now."
Fiona watched Sydney leave and then walked up the steps toward City Hall.
"Brody so what I hear you saying is that it's going to take a few more days for the results to come back?"
Chance had called his partner when he had returned to the cabin. Now he paced the living room, not liking the news he heard.
"The paint chips came back for a particular hue of Ebony Midnight but without some samples taken directly from the car in question, it's going to be like looking for a needle in a very big haystack."
"Okay listen, just keep on them and we'll try and see if we can locate the truck on this end," Chance said, "FIONA and Jed said that the men who they caught harassing the mustangs drove a black truck."
"There are a lot of black pickups," Brody said, "Just like there are a lot of black cars."
"I know," Chance said, "But we've got to start somewhere. These men mean business. All three of them could have just as easily died in that crash and we wasted time listening to the sheriff."
"He's just interested in monitoring any investigation of that crash that you might be doing," Brody said, "Don't give him anything. At least not anything that's true."
"Okay, I got to go," Chance said, " Fiona and I are heading off to dinner tonight with Jed and Bonnie."
"Sounds like you've taken your relationship to a new level, the dinner party" Brody said, "How's she doing anyway?"
"She walked away with bruises and cuts," Chance said, "And then she went straight back to work."
"A woman after our own hearts," Brody said.
Fiona looked at the records spread across the table in front of her. She had been led by a woman into a fairly good-sized storage room with rows upon rows of documents, some with labels. As far as locating the rest, well it would be more like putting a fishing line in an ocean and hoping to snag an impressive catch. Now after an hour she realized that what she was looking for might not be inside one of the folders retrieved from the containers on the shelves. She also noticed that she had an incoming phone call and pulled out her cell.
"Hello," she said, noticing that no phone number appeared up on the ID.
"Listen bitch, you were lucky to walk away from that crash," a familiar voice said, "Next time you'll be dead."
She looked at the phone and sighed, wondering how this individual had gotten her cell phone number. The caller had hung up per usual before she could respond by telling him, listen you punk, if you come near me, I'm going to kick your ass down the street and be done with it.
She hated getting threatened just for trying to do her job. She just knew if she met this coward face to face, she could take him. Maybe he realized that too.
Suddenly she heard another noise. A few footsteps outside the door and then something being slipped beneath it. She looked and found an envelope lying on the floor. She left her seat to move quickly to the door to open it. But when she did, she discovered an empty hallway.
She opened the envelope and read it.
To the lawyer who's left,
If you're interested in receiving more information, meet me tomorrow night at the park at 9 p.m. midnight alone. If I see anyone else, I won't be there. What I have to show you will be worth your time.
Signed, Concerned Citizen
She looked on it for any clues on who might have sent it but found none so she folded it up and put it in her pocket. She sat back thinking, in a matter of minutes she had received both a threatening phone call and an anonymous tip in writing from someone who no doubt had fled as quickly as they had come. Not too bad for such a small town like Silver Lode. People always thought that the cases that she and Chance had taken in the larger cities like L.A. were the more complicated and more dangerous ones. But that hardly ever was the case compared to the small towns. Sometimes the two of them found themselves caught in the middle of two sides of a divide both armed by people acting from deeply felt emotions and sometimes just as volatile back stories going back generations. She sighed as it had become more and more clear with each passing day that this case she had taken to help the ranchers in the valley had followed that path.
She picked up her things and got out of there.
Chance sat in the living room reading, as Cassidy breezed in the front door.
"How'd your day go," he asked before she could sneak right past him.
She spun around.
"Oh Alice and I did some baking," she said, "I brought some Banana Nut muffins back if you'd like to try them."
He put down his magazine.
"Okay, I'm game," he said.
She reached into her bag and tossed him one. He deftly caught it and took a bite.
"Not bad," he said, " Fiona will be back soon. She 'll probably eat the rest of them if you're not careful."
"So how was your day?"
"Pretty good," Chance said, "We went riding out and stopped to visit Frisco."
"Oh yeah, the mustang that used to escape all the time," Cassidy said.
""That he did," Chance said, "But he's put that behind him and is moving on."
Cassidy sat on the couch, nibbling on a muffin.
"Did you know that Alice had her own way cool older boyfriend when she was my age?"
"You mean her husband," Chance said.
Cassidy shook her head.
"No, before him," she said, "At first she ignored the guy she wound up married to because she had a huge crush on this older guy but he had one of them, what do you call it when their parents force them to get married?"
"Ah, shotgun weddings."
"Yeah, one of those," Cassidy said, "On the account that he got some girl pregnant."
"But Alice said she was over it in about a week and then she discovered that her friend that she didn't pay much attention to wasn't so bad after all…"
"They did get hitched and were married for a very long time," Chance said.
"Yeah, I guess it's the ordinary nerdy guys who are the keepers," Cassidy said, "'Doesn't seem fair to me."
Chance searched his mind for something to say. His experience dealing with teenagers not being much in the way of giving them advice.
"Cassidy, men and women are attracted to each other for a variety of reasons and most of them have little to do with physical attributes."
"So you might pick a nerdy girl who's nice over a girl who's like hot and has…?"
"It's not that cut and dry," he said, "But I'll pick a woman who's got a big heart, loves the outdoors, is passionate about life and laughs at my jokes any day over one who's just pretty on the outside. The hard part is, the type of beauty found inside of a person is something you can only find by knowing someone for a while. But that's also the fun part if you meet the right person."
"Like you can't tell a book by its cover, right?"
"Something like that, though I've heard it put in other ways."
Cassidy narrowed her eyes.
"Were you a nerd?"
"No, I wasn't," he said, "It took me until college to take my studies seriously. That's when a very good friend of mine proved to me that you could be interested in book learning and still have a lot of fun. That's when I started applying myself more."
"That might be in college but at my school, it's all what you look like and who you hang with and if you're a nerd, then you're always going to be one."
"What's wrong with being a nerd," he said. "Most of the successful people started out as nerds. Even in the film industry, look at George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg. The important thing as my father always told me is to be true to who you are rather than try to be something you're not."
Cassidy smiled and jumped off the sofa running to her laptop.
"Excuse me, while I write that down before I forget it," she said, putting on her iPod.
Chance watched her go, breathing a sigh of relief that he had apparently avoided the gauntlet for now.
The door opened and Fiona walked in the living room.
"What an afternoon," she said, putting her bag down.
"Did you get your car," Chance said.
"Yeah, Joe fixed it up today," she said, "I needed a new oil line."
"The old one worn out?"
"I don't know," she said, "The car wouldn't start because most of the oil had leaked out of the line."
"That's strange," he said, "How bad was the leak?"
"I don't know how long it was there but it couldn't have been that long," she said, "I've never had any problems with it before and Alice said she serviced it last month."
"The timing's a bit suspicious since your car wouldn't start the night you were run off the road."
She ran her hand through her hair.
"Yeah, it is," she said, "If it had started, I would have been riding home by myself and we wouldn't have all been in the same car."
"Three at one blow is a lot more efficient than going after you all separately."
She nodded, a chill running through her.
"So what did you find out at City Hall," he asked.
"Not much," she said, "Of course, most of the older records there weren't organized well."
She sat down on the sofa.
"I had a few other strange things happen when I was at City Hall."
"Oh, I got another phone call from an anonymous person telling me that I was lucky to walk away this time and next time I'd be dead."
"That's not going to happen," Chance said.
Fiona shook her head.
"I just want to find out who's calling me and kick their ass until Sunday."
"You're already doing that," Chance said, "And soon you'll have your chance to do it inside a courtroom."
She tucked her feet beneath her.
"It's not all bad," she said, "I also got an anonymous note slipped under the door clandestine style from a 'concerned citizen' asking to meet with me tomorrow night."
"You're not going there alone."
"I have to go alone," she said, "If they see anyone else, they'll leave."
"I don't care, Fiona," Chance said, "You remember how this went down last time."
She looked at him.
"Every single day."
"Okay, I'll talk to Jed…"
He saw the expression on her face.
"We'll talk to Jed and plan this out so you can meet this person and stay safe."
"Fiona I'm not trying to tell you how to handle your case," Chance said, "It's just that it's gotten dangerous and I don't want anything to happen to you."
"Houston, what happens to me can't be any worse than what I've already faced," she said, "I know how to handle myself. I spent the past year taking training courses to make damn sure I know how to handle myself. I am never going to let anyone hurt me ever again let alone do worse."
" Fiona, look at you," Chance said, "Look at your face, you've already been hurt. You've been working and staying in what's supposed to be one of the most peaceful places on God's earth and someone's already tried to kill you."
"Tried, Houston," she said, standing up, "I'm still here and I'm still fighting."
Chance knew that, noticing that her fists were balled and her legs in a crouch. He wondered if she were even aware of that.
"You've been fighting for a long time now."
She didn't like hearing that.
"I've had to," Fiona said, "Sometimes I've had to fight just to get up in the morning and not have the first thing I remember be what that man did to me. I've worked so hard to put it behind me, to try to anyway and move on and I'm getting to that point. All I want is to just do what I have always loved to do and that's use my law degree to help people."
"But it's dangerous," he said, "You just got a threat saying that next time, you'll be dead."
"You get threats all the time," she said, "We both did when I worked in L.A."
"That's different," he said.
Chance fought to control the emotion in his voice.
"Because there I could protect you," Chance said, "And when I'm not there, I can't."
She felt tears threaten. She almost brushed them way with her hand but stopped herself.
"We can't always be there and protect each other," she said, "But that doesn't mean we can't live our lives, do our work and try to take the precautions that we can."
He got up and started pacing.
"It's not enough."
She put her hands on her hips.
"It's going to have to be enough," she said, "You can't always rescue me from everything that's going to happen. And that's not what I expect from you. That's not what I want from you. I told you what I did want andthat wasn't enough."
And with one last look at him, she left the room, leaving months of frustration and pain in her wake.
Cassidy came out of the kitchen and looked at Chance.
"Did I miss something?"
Chance didn't answer. He just sunk back down on the couch.