Chance sat with Brody in another car staking out the marina but so far, no one had appeared at a small craft parked in one of the slips by a snack bar and tack shop. Brody sat next to him with one of his Hoagies in hand. Pungent red onions joined Anchovies among the medley of odors this morning.
"I don't know if he's going to show," Chance said.
"Let's give him another hour and then call it a morning," Brady said, sipping some ginger ale, "Would you like a sandwich?"
"No thanks, I already ate at the office."
Brody picked up the daily newspaper.
"We made the society page this morning," he said, thumbing that section open to the coverage of the bachelor auction and its aftermath.
"I'd rather forget that ever happened."
"You were a hit," Brody said, "I bet it's not every year one of the bachelor's jumps off the stage during the bidding and collars a nefarious criminal."
"The bidding hadn't started yet, Brody," Chance said, looking at the boat again.
Still nobody coming or going.
"What about that woman," Brody said, "She sure had the hots for you and when she finds out how much you're worth, she'll put those hooks in you as well."
Chance turned to look at his partner, irritated.
"You don't know that," he said, "Why do you think all women are gold diggers?"
"Before I met the wonderful missus who gave me two wonderful children, I got burned more than once by the fairer sex."
"How many turned you down?"
"Not many," he said, "Certainly not as many as you're thinking."
Chance turned back to the boat with his binoculars.
"Are you sure we're in the right spot," he said, "Doesn't look like much is going on there."
"That's what my source said and he hasn't been wrong yet."
"We'll give it another hour," Chance said, "We still have that meeting with the new client."
"I booked us at that new restaurant downtown," Brody said, "The best sushi in L.A."
Chance made a face.
"I know that's not your thing but this is an upscale client," Brody said, "Steak and baked potatoes aren't going to cut it for this power luncheon and it's too heavy a meal this early in the day."
Chance looked at Brody's Hoagie.
"That's just a snack," Brody said, picking it up and taking another healthy bite.
Chance sighed and looked at his watch again before watching the boat for any sign of life.
Fiona left the cabin early in the morning and drove the rover up to the ranch house to eat breakfast. Alice cooked the best huevos rancheros in the area and all the hands were already in the kitchen scooping them onto their plates to take back to the big table. Jed already sat down and dove his fork into his breakfast. She got her plate of food and sat next to him.
"So you're going to have a meeting with Jason today," he said.
"Yeah, Jason's rented a place in Silver Lode for a couple of months while we work on this lawsuit. We're meeting at the diner."
"The developers are going to file their permit with the planning office sometime this week if it's approved at the meeting tonight in town," Jed said, "So the initial paperwork has to be filed with the courts."
"Are the Flynns going to sell their land to them?"
"I don't know," he said, "I hope not, because it's one of the spots where the mares shelter with their foals after they have them."
"I talked to Clara and she said she didn't want to sell," Alice said, "But the negotiators as they called them sent by the development firm have been putting pressure on them."
Fiona ran her hand through her hair.
"We don't have much time then," she said, "We might have to file a TRO, a temporary restraining order against any proposed action on the Flynn ranch. It's right next to the federal land."
"The development firm already owns the parcel next where the Wyatt ranch used to be," Jed said, "If the Flynns don't sell, they might go for Eminent Domain."
"It's tougher to win that for private development but hardly impossible," Fiona said, "A lot will depend on the mayor and the city council's input into this process."
"The city council and business owners in Silver Lode might want the ski resort," he said, "It's the ranchers who don't."
Alice brought her plate to sit down beside them.
"So do you think a restraining order might be necessary?"
"Maybe," she said, finishing up her eggs," But it's something we want to use only as a last resort."
"This valley's survived without a ski resort for over 150 years," she said, "We don't need to turn into another Aspen."
"Jason and I and the other members of the legal team are going to do our best to make sure that doesn't happen," Fiona said, "And that the mustangs stay free and happy in the valley."
"And we're going to get the surveyor's map done this week to send to the BLM and the county seat," Jed said, "We made a lot of progress the past couple of days."
"You sound like you're both working very hard," Alice said, "Are there enough of you to do all this?"
Fiona and Jed looked at each other.
"We're fine," FIONA said.
"What about Chance," Alice said, "He was going to fly in and help you with the investigative legwork."
"He's busy back in L.A. with a full load of clients to take care of," Fiona said, "We'll have to make do without him."
"Are you sure you can do that?"
"We'll be fine," she said, "And if his schedule does clear up, he can always come out here and lend a hand. I'm not going anywhere for a while."
Chance saw the man leave the boat and knew he had to move quickly.
"Get on the phone to Linc," he told Brody after taking his gun out.
"Chance, what are you going to do when you catch up to him?"
"Just give Linc a call, okay?"
Chance jumped out of the car and sped off after the man who looked up and after seeing him, took off in the other direction running alongside the dock. Chance sprinted across the lot hurdling a couple of benches before reaching where the boats were tied. The man ran about 10 yards ahead of him and after he looked behind him to see Chance, he picked up his pace. Chance pursued him, navigating pedestrians like a slalom ski run. Until both of them reached the end of the pier and were facing only the bay. The man turned around and looked at Chance.
Chance pointed his gun at the man.
"All right, end of the road," he said, "Unless you want to jump in the harbor and swim to Catalina, you're not going to see any dry land."
"What do you want," the man yelled, "My boss told me you might show up."
"I want the rest of the names," Chance said, "We caught your partner last night and picked up a flash drive of some file names. We need the rest of them."
The man fidgeted.
"What makes you think there are more names?"
"Because your partner told us in police custody," Chance said, "Now why would he be giving us false information?"
Brody ran up behind Chance, also armed with a gun. Sirens sounded as police cars blocked off the other end of the dock. Linc and the cavalry, Chance thought. He hoped the man would calmly put up his hands and surrender. No such luck. Instead, he looked behind him, spun around quickly and jumped in the water. Chance looked up and saw a motorboat puttering towards him.
"No…" he said and jumped in the harbor to go after his man before he could escape. Now Chance was a powerful swimmer but his clothes weighed him down a bit and he began losing ground to the man. He pushed harder and the man kept looking behind him to check his progress. Chance pushed his aching muscles to swim harder and he reached the man, then grabbed him by the collar and started pulling him back towards the dock.
The man didn't like that much and struggled. The motor boat approached. Suddenly, the man on that boat took an oar and tried to hit Chance with it to help his accomplice. Chance still holding onto one man reached out to grab the oar from the other guy who held onto it. Suddenly, that man joined the two of them treading water in the harbor.
The police crowded the edge of the dock with their guns drawn. Brody looked at them and thought, oh god, they're going to shoot everyone.
"Don't shoot Chance," Brody said, "He's the good guy…most of the time."
Linc came up and ordered the other men to put their weapons down. Chance and the two men in the drink looked up and saw all the police. The two criminals looked at each other then decided to pack it in.
Twenty minutes later, Chance stood on the dock with a blanket around him and Brody slapping him on the shoulder.
"Jumping into the harbor was a bit over the top," he critiqued, "That harbor's a mess. I hope you're up to date on your shots."
"Did Linc take them back to the station," Chance asked.
"Yeah, but he's not too happy with you or me for that matter," Brody said, "Still I think he believed most of our story."
"Those two are connected to an operation that the guy spilled on last night," he said, "Somebody's scamming the city on development projects."
"Well, he wants us to drop by the station and talk about that," Brody said, "But I told him we have that lunch meeting first which…"
Brody looked at his watch.
"We'll just about make it too if we book on over there."
"I have to stop by the office and change my clothes," Chance said, trying not to count how many times he had made that statement in the past week.
Brody looked him over.
"You definitely need to change your clothes."
"Maybe I do need that vacation," Chance said, as they walked back to the car.
"I'm not the one stopping you partner," Brody said.
"The Rockies are nice this time of year," Chance said, as he settled into the driver's seat.
"Now you're talking," Brody said, "And what Fiona 's working on can't be any more dangerous and difficult than these cases. It will be a good opportunity for you to get away and relax in God's country."
"She said she didn't need an investigator when she called last night," he said, "She said she had everything under control."
"Did she say she didn't want you to come out?"
Chance shook his head.
"No, just that she could handle the lawsuit fine with the team of lawyers she's working with," he said, "And I know Jed and some of the hands are helping her with the field work."
They drove back to Century City back to the agency's office.
"None of them are you with your skills," Brody said, "Which are almost as fine-tuned as my own."
"Jed's an ex-cop, like you."
"Well, that will help a lot," Bryce said, adjusting the rear view mirror as they exited the freeway, "But like I said, none of them are you."
Chance studied him.
"Are you talking about investigative skills?"
Brody gave him a sharp look.
"Of course, what did you think I was talking about?"
Fiona and Jason had taken over a corner booth at the diner next to Bonnie's grocery store and ate burgers and fries while Jason typed on his laptop.
"Do you have that document on the transfer of ownership," he asked.
Fiona fished through the stack of papers and pulled it out.
"Here it is," she said, "It's a copy of the sales slip on the first parcel that the firm purchased last year."
"I wrote on a case like this when I did law review," Jason said, "I think some of the same case law still applies."
She leaned over him to look at the computer screen.
"It should work," she said, then looked at her watch, "I have about an hour or so left here and then I've got to go pick up Cassidy at the airport."
"That will work," he said, "We'll have enough done to be able to file it tomorrow."
Two men entered the diner.
"Look who's here," Jason said.
Fiona looked up from her work and saw one of the developers, a tall man with salt and pepper hair named Steve Keely and Calvin Parker the town's mayor. The two men had already spotted them in the small establishment and were heading over.
"Hello, Mr. Stewart, Ms Jackson," Keely said, "Nice to run into both of you in town."
They both looked up at the two men.
"Nice to see you," Fiona said.
"Have you met Mr. Steve Keely," Parker said, "He's trying to bring business to our fair town and get it on the map. Some folks are trying to stop the direction of progress."
Fiona cocked her head.
"You're talking about the ranchers," she said, "They like the way the valley's been for the past 100 years for their animals and their families. They don't think it needs that kind of progress."
"If they didn't have a bunch of outsiders telling them what to do…" Parker said.
"They came to us to ask for our help," Fiona said, "They had already come to a decision on this issue. Unless you don't believe that they can think for themselves."
"They're too caught up in the old ways," Parker said, "If we stick to the old life, this town will flounder and dry up."
"You mean, there will be less green lining up some pockets," Jason said, "Like yours."
Parker's face flushed.
"I'm not making any money off of this deal," Parker said, "I'm only interested in the well being of Silver Lode and its economic future."
"Uh huh," Jason said, "And how much money is Keely and his partners dropping into your reelection campaign next fall?"
"What are you implying?"
"I'll finish this discussion at the town council meeting later," Jason said.
Parker and Keely looked at each other.
"There's no need for you to bother yourselves with dropping in on that meeting," Parker said, "We have the votes to approve the next phase of this project."
"You know what they say," Jason said, "Don't count your votes before they're cast."
Keely looked at Fiona.
"And what is your part in all this?"
"I'm on the legal team," she said, "I'm representing the ranchers of this valley."
"Well, little lady this is already a done deal," Keely said, "The city council and mayor will just tie it up with a nice little bow tonight."
"Don't be too sure," Fiona said.
"Oh we're sure," Keely said, "Didn't you hear what the mayor said? You can't stand in the way of progress."
"We've got work to do," Fiona said, "Unless you have anything else to say."
"The both of you might as well pack up and go home," Parker said, "You're way over your heads here which you'll find out if you keep pursuing this."
Without another word, the two men stomped out of the diner.
"So do you think we should take their advice and skip the meeting tonight," Jason said.
"Hell no," Fiona said, smiling, "I think it's going to live up to the hype."
Chance showered and changed into one of his collection of suits he kept at the office just in case he needed to change clothes and he and Brody headed to the sushi restaurant to meet their new client.
A waiter showed them to a table where a man sat, dining on some shrimp rolls.
Brody sat down and ordered while Chance sat next to him and daydreamed about a luscious steak, cooked medium rare next to fried potatoes crisped on the edges. And right next to it, a cold beer just out of the refrigerator.
"Are you sure you don't want anything," Brody said.
Chance shook his head.
"My partner," Brody said to the man, "He ate a huge breakfast."
The other man nodded.
"I'm Douglas Fortworth," the man said, "I've been having this affair with this beautiful woman that I met on the road."
Chance put his hand up.
"Now wait a minute," he said, "We don't handle domestic matters."
He raised his brows at Brody who shrugged back.
"Oh no, that's okay," Fortworth said, "I can handle the relationship part but the problem is I'm being blackmailed by some unknown person who's threatening to spill to the tabloids and my wife about the girlfriend if I don't pay a $1 million in large bills by Saturday."
"Tabloids," Brady said, "Are you someone famous?"
"Why yes, I wrote the best seller on building more fulfilling relationships with the opposite sex. Some say that men and women are from different planets, both uninhabited but we're all the same. We want a partner who will love us unconditionally and who we can trust."
"Can't argue with that," Brody said, munching on a California roll.
"Unconditional love and trust," Chance said, "And which of those does your wife get if you don't mind me asking?"
"She gets to shop at Saks and Tiffany's if I sign a contract for a new talk show on love and relationships in the 21st century but this blackmail thing is complicating the negotiations."
Chance leaned back in his chair.
"Any chance your female companion could be in cahoots with your blackmailer?"
Fortworth stroked his chin.
"You know I hadn't thought about that," he said.
"Well maybe you should," Chance said, "That's often the case more than people think."
"Okay, I'll check into that," Fortworth said, scribbling notes on a pad of paper next to him.
"How's the blackmailer communicating with you?"
"He sent me flowers yesterday, some beautiful Begonias and the blackmail threat was included with the card."
Chance and Brody looked at each other.
Jason and Fiona packed up their equipment.
"Do you think we're ready for tonight?"
Fiona looked at her watch.
"We got about a couple of hours," she said, "Maggie should be meeting us there."
"I think it's going to be a packed house," Jason said, "I'm hoping that the ranchers come out in force."
"Jed and I spoke with many of them and they said they planned on being there."
"That's great," he said, "Well, I'll see you at the meeting."
They walked out to their cars. A distance away two men sat in a car, watching them leave.
"Don't look at me that way," Brody said, as he and Chance left the restaurant.
"That gentleman in there is probably getting bilked by his girlfriend," Chance said, as they walked to the parking lot.
"How do you know it's not his wife?"
"The begonias wouldn't have had any flowers attached to them."
"Look, I think there's still a case there," Brody said.
"He should go to the police and report it," Chance said.
"Obviously he can't or he would have done that already."
Chance unlocked the car.
"We're not that kind of agency," he said.
"I know that, but this guy's desperate," Brody said, "He needs someone to help him."
"He needs a marriage counselor, not a P.I."
Chance started the car and pulled out of the lot, tires squealing.
"Man, you need a vacation," Brody said.
"Don't start with that," Chance said, "There's way too much cases to close out before I can even think about it."
" Fiona needs you," Brody said, reaching around for his Hoagie.
Chance found it near where he sat and tossed it to Brody, who quickly unwrapped it.
"She's handling herself very well in Colorado," Chance said, "And she insists she doesn't need my investigative skills."
"Well how 'bout just having her best friend spend some time with her?"
"She's as busy there as I'm here," Chance said.
"When did you two get too busy for each other," Brody said, "All I've heard about since I started working with you is this legendary friendship between the two of you and when I saw her that morning in your office, I could see that there was something to all that talk."
Chance's phone rang. He picked it up.
"Hi Uncle Mac, what's up?"
"Linc called you," Mac said, "He wants you down at the station pronto."
"Is it about the men apprehended this morning?"
"Yes," Mac said, "They've been linked to that gentleman that you apprehended at the auction last night."
"That's good news," Chance said, "Anything else?"
"Yes, the sponsors of the charity auction called this morning and they're definitely inviting you back next year."
"I think I'll just mail them a check," he said clicking his phone shut.
Fiona rode Sienna to her favorite spot by the group of trees near where the new barn stood after being rebuilt during a community raising the previous year. She dismounted and sat beneath the tree, watching the wind part the shafts of tall grass which grew across the meadow, tinged brown by the heat of the summer.
Last year, she had helped rebuild the barn with the other residents of the valley. She and Chance not long after they had returned back to Texas. Only she stayed in Texas and Chance went back to run his agency back in L.A. She spent most of her time training and working on her new business which was consulting and offering legal assistance to federal agencies and other entities which helped women. She had spent the last year working hard to rebuild her life which had nearly been taken away from her, from the ground up. But she missed her best friend who had risked his life to help her come back home and to help her deal with the aftermath of life on the run.
Christina and her other friends who lived and worked in Dallas had also been instrumental in helping her get her life back and she had created a rewarding life for herself. Still after months of hard work and little time for herself, she approached burnout so she took a brief leave and flew out to Colorado to spend several months helping those who had helped her when she had needed them, save their way of life.
She knew that the upcoming meeting at the city council would only be the beginning of what could be a long battle ahead. She would be here at least to get the ball off the ground and started in the courts. The rest would be up to the ranchers who valued the land and the horses which roamed over it as they had for decades.
Jed and Reed rode up to where she sat.
"So you're ready to go to the meeting?"
She nodded, standing up.
"As ready as I'll ever be," she said, "Jason and I worked all afternoon on the TRO for tomorrow."
"I guess tonight is when we'll find out if we need it," Jed said.
"Yeah, I already had the mayor and one of the developers tell me the vote's a done deal and they might be right."
"If so, we're going to fight this," Jed said, "
"I've better get going," Fiona said, "I still got to pick up Cassidy at the airport before the meeting."
Chance and Brody walked out of the police station after their meeting with Linc who had read them the riot act about this morning but didn't really mean it. The two men they had caught this morning were singing about their roles in the operation to the detectives right now but Linc still shook his head at Chance and Brody as they left his office.
"He's really a hard case," Brody said, "More so than in the days he supervised me."
"I can see where some of that attitude came from," Chance said, "Made me realize I'd been a bit hard on him these years."
Brody ignored him.
"I still think that if we can get some leads on the Begonia Blackmailer, this will turn out to be a red letter day."
"We haven't agreed to take on the Begonia…case."
"We were talking about that vacation you were planning to take," Brody said.
"And I told you that it's off the calendar until I make headway in closing out some of these cases."
"I and the other guys can handle it," Brody said, "By the time you get back, we'll have it all under control."
"That's what scares me."
"I didn't think anything scared you," Brody said, "Well almost anything."
Chance stopped and turned around to face him.
"Why are you pushing this whole vacation thing?"
"Ah, you got my point," Brody said,"You're quick."
"Why are you pushing it?"
"Because you need one," Brody said, "When was your last one?"
"Last year," he said.
"There you go then," Brody said, "This would be a great time to take one. Air fares are going down. Not that this is a problem for you."
"No, I have my own fleet of jets," Chance said.
"Perfect," Brody said, "You could fly one of them out to Colorado and help your best friend. It's got to be more relaxing than life in the fast lane here."
Fiona drove back to Silver Lode from the small airport that was about an hour away. Cassidy sat next to her, looking out the window at the scenery which raced by. She had grown three inches since Fiona had last seen her and her long brown hair now included strands that were pink and blue. That wasn't all that had changed, Fiona noticed. No wonder Christina had her hands full with the teenaged girl.
"So how long are we going to stay at this meeting you've got to be at?"
"It shouldn't be longer than a couple of hours," she said.
"I can't believe I won't be able to see him anymore," Cassidy said, leaning back in her seat, "Aunt Christina is being so unfair."
"Cassidy, he was much too old for you," Fiona said, "You need to go out with boys your own age."
"I don't want to go out with other boys," Cassidy said, "Spike was no boy, he's the coolest guy."
"Yeah, his parents didn't want to give him a boring name," Cassidy said, "Awesome isn't it?"
"Christina felt that you and…Spike needed some space. Things were getting way too serious," FIONA said, "So you're spending some time out on a ranch in the beautiful Rockies helping me out on this case."
Cassidy rolled her eyes.
"Why do I have to help you take notes," Cassidy said, "Don't you have paid help to do that?"
"This case is being done pro bono for the ranchers," Fiona said." That means that the law firm involved is covering all the costs."
"You mean you're not getting paid," Cassidy said, "No wonder you need free labor like me."
Fiona looked at the younger woman, who wore lipstick two shades too dark and foundation two shades too light.
"I'm asking you because you have a real eye for details and your penmanship is much better than mine."
Cassidy shrugged but Fiona made out a hint of a smile on her face. She pulled the rover into the parking lot near City Hall where the meeting was being held and saw that there were few empty spaces left in the spacious lot.
As she and Cassidy got out of the car, Jason came walking up to her.
"You got here just in time," he said, "This meeting's just gotten started and it doesn't look very good at all."
Fiona and Cassidy hurried on after Jason into the front entrance of City Hall, wondering what awaited them. They discovered that soon enough.