Several months ago…
He saw her sitting in a chair on the balcony of the beach house and went out to meet her, the woman wearing a nice white dress which accented her tanned skin. She wore her curly dark hair back off of her face and nursed a soft drink. Being married didn't mean he stopped checking out attractive women who crossed his line of vision, he reminded himself. But all he did was look.
"Hey is this seat taken," he said.
She looked up at him and shook her head so he sat down.
"I saw you talking with some of the other guests, looking like you were having a good time."
"They're mostly Montana's friends," she said, "I'm from out of town."
"You came in for his birthday?"
"Yeah," she said, "My flight was late taking off so I got here just an hour ago. It's been a long day."
He studied her face, noticing she did look tired.
"So how do you know the birthday boy?"
"I'm a very good friend of his who used to work with him out here," she said, "I live in Dallas now."
His face lit up.
"Oh yeah, you must be the legendary Fiona Jackson," he said, "My predecessor."
"And you must be….Brody," she said, smiling, "I heard you have a thing for anchovies. So do I."
"Chance's a little sensitive about that," Brody said, "But he hasn't banished them from stakeouts yet."
"He must think you're really good," she said.
"So do I," Brody said, "Not that I could be anywhere but in your shadow."
She raised her brow.
"You are good," she said, "You should do just fine working with him."
"And you, look lovely," Brody said, "If I weren't married and I knew my wife wouldn't kill me, you're the kind of woman I could see myself spending more time with."
She cocked her head but she smiled.
"You don't even know me," Fiona said.
"I've heard a lot about you from our mutual employer," Brody said, "not that you work for him any longer of course."
"It's been a while since I've been to L.A.," she said, "My career takes me different places but seldom here."
"He mentioned that too," Brody said, "I know a lot about you."
She looked at him a moment, then nodded.
"You've read the stories," she said, "About what I went through, what we both went through over a year ago."
"So you think you know everything there is to know about me."
"Well...," he said, feeling a bit like he was on the witness stand.
Her smile dimmed and she looked away.
"Then you don't know me," she said, standing up, "Excuse me."
"Wait…" he stood up to grab her arm.
Fiona woke up in her cabin, to see that quietness met her and a stream of moonlight came through her window and onto her comforter. She saw that the clock read 2 a.m. so she pulled her comforter closer around her and lay back down to go to sleep. She tried hard to recapture her dream but it had faded. At least her nightmares had receded by now. She hadn't had one since the night of the party.
She had met Chance's new partner that night when Chance had celebrated his birthday at his beach house. It had been an all day affair, most of which had been spent on the spacious piece of sand and surf in front of his property. After the sun set, the guests had retreated to his house for cocktails and a barbecue, Texas style of course. At some point, Fiona had arrived in a taxi from the airport after her flight had been delayed only to see that Chance had left to go on an errand to pick up more steaks and chicken. She had been engrossed in conversation with some of the guests when he returned.
She enjoyed parties especially smaller, intimate ones with close friends but she noticed that she knew few of the guests who attended this party. Oh, she of course knew his closer friends like Capt. Linc who brought his wife and daughter along with some freshly made cobbler and pies. She knew some of the receptionists who worked at his office building who had brought their boyfriends and husbands to the bash. But many of the people, she had never even met and when she heard some of the names during introductions, she was finally able to match unfamiliar faces with names Chance had casually mentioned during their phone calls.
And she also met Brody.
Sighing, she turned and tried to get to sleep. Soon enough, the sun would rise and a hungry teenager would wake up to her first morning in "the sticks" as she called it wondering about breakfast. Then a long day riding across the ranch awaited both of them after she heard from Jason about the filing of the temporary injunction papers.
She gave up on sleeping and got out of bed to go to the kitchen.
Chance kicked off his sheets and got out of bed. He had gotten in late that night, actually early in the morning after a fruitless stakeout to try to catch a jewel thief fencing his goods at an empty warehouse. He wondered if Brody had dragged him out there on some false pretence to get him to spill about his vacation plans. When he had returned, sleep had eluded him even after he took a shower and watched television for a while. He found himself thinking back to the night of his birthday party.
He had walked into the door carrying bags of meat to barbecue so his guests wouldn't go hungry and saw Fiona in a white dress that hugged her figure standing and talking to some of his friends as if they were hers too. She listened and laughed at their stories and they did hers. He hadn't seen her arrive, hadn't known she was coming because during their last phone conversation, her trip to L.A. didn't seem too promising due to last minute plans.
Linc had then called him out to the backyard to put out a small fire that broke out while barbecuing. Then some time later when he returned to his living room, she was gone.
He walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. He looked and found a quart of milk, to heat up to help him sleep, which he needed to prepare him for his morning, afternoon and early evening stakeouts before he headed off to where Ginger worked to attend the premiere of the new art exhibit.
His phone rang and he nearly let the machine pick it up but found himself reaching for the phone.
"Hello," he said, stifling a yawn.
"Hi Montana, did I wake you" she said.
" Fiona, is that you," he said, "Is there anything wrong?"
She paused and his hairs on the back his neck stood up.
"No…No I just had a hard time sleeping after the excitement of last night's meeting," she said, "How are things on your end?"
"Great, really great," Chance said, "We spent six hours in a car staking out a warehouse where a jewel thief pulled a no-show."
"Was it Brody's idea?"
"His usually reliable source of information was wrong for once."
She didn't laugh.
"At least you're home safe," she said, "That's what's important."
He switched the phone to his other ear.
"Are you sure everything's all right in Colorado?"
"Yeah…though I'll feel better when the TRO's filed tomorrow and we can focus on the hearing at the end of next week."
"That will stop the project," Chance said.
"Most likely, because between the time and cost of appealing it, the developers will probably decide to cut their losses and seek out another location."
"Then the battle will be over," Chance said.
"Hopefully," she said, "That's the plan."
"Sounds like a good one," he said.
Then silence slipped between them.
"I better let you go," she said, "Good night."
"You mean good morning," he said, "You too."
Chance clicked off the phone and looked at it a moment, before putting it down. He mixed some cinnamon in his warm milk as his father had done when he was a child and sipped it. It began to work its magic by the time he half-finished it. Still, his mind wandered as it often did lately when he thought about the direction that his agency had moved in since he had returned to L.A. after months away.
Luckily, he hadn't lost many of his clients but he realized the work he needed to do to restore its hard-built reputation and set to work almost immediately. Within several days, he fell back into the life as if he had never left. He interviewed and hired some of the police officers who had retired from the LAPD, who had received Linc's highest recommendations. And they lived up to the hype, being solid producers who never complained about the late night hours and weekends away from their families. After all, their careers in law enforcement had exacted similar sacrifices and he paid much better.
But even as his agency recovered from his months of neglect, he realized that he spent more time trying to cross out case numbers from a ledger than he did on working through each individual assignment. He missed the days when his agency practiced a more personal touch for his clients. It often led to him bringing the cases home with him at the end of the day, which led to many sleepless nights but heartwarming gratification when the cases were concluded.
He finished his warm milk and went back to bed, but sleep took its time coming.
The sunlight awoke Fiona from her night of tossing and turning and she heard footsteps outside her bedroom so she got up and pulling on her robe, walked out into the kitchen. Cassidy sat at the table spooning cereal in her mouth. She turned around when she saw Fiona arrive.
"I didn't know if you were ever getting up so I just helped myself to some cereal," she said.
"I could make some eggs if you liked," Fiona said, reaching into the cabinet to get some coffee to brew.
"Not necessary," Cassidy said, "I can handle my own breakfast and this cereal…isn't so bad once you eat a couple bites of it."
Fiona picked up the box.
"It was here when I arrived," she said, "I haven't had much time to get to town to get more."
"It's fine," she said, "Don't worry about it or me."
Fiona looked at the teenaged girl who was so different than the younger girl she remembered.
"But it's our job to worry about you, Cassidy," Fiona said, sitting at the table and pouring cereal and milk into a bowl for herself.
"You and Christina aren't my parents," Cassidy said, frowning.
"No we're not," Fiona said, "But we both care a lot about you and we're worried about you."
"There's nothing to worry about," Cassidy said, "Especially since I'm not allowed to hang out with anyone without a babysitter."
"Spike was way too old for you," Fiona said, "I know you're in a hurry to grow up and prove that you're grown up but you're still a young girl."
"I'm not a baby," Cassidy said, putting down her spoon.
"You're still a young girl, and you should have time to enjoy being just that," Fiona said, "And Christina and I want to make sure you have that chance."
"Why can't I have that and still see Spike?"
"Because Christina said you can't and you need to listen to her," she said, "She only did it because she cares so much about you."
"She won't when it arrives," Cassidy mumbled.
"What do you mean, it," Fiona said and then she understood.
"'It' meaning baby," Cassidy said, "You do know that she's knocked up."
Fiona nodded, smiling.
"I'd heard about it," she said, "And I know Christina and Dan are very excited but it doesn't mean they care about or love you any less or that this will change how they feel about you."
"'Course it will."
"Do you really believe that or are you just scared that you don't know what's going to happen?"
Cassidy looked like she was thinking about it.
"Both…maybe," she said, "Still it would be nice to have a sister."
"I know you miss your sister a lot," Fiona said, "But you're going to have a chance to be a big sister to someone just like she was to you."
"I guess," Cassidy said, but smiled.
"So are you up for a day of riding," Fiona asked getting up to pour herself some coffee.
Cassidy narrowed her eyes.
"They do have horses for beginners here, don't they?"
"Jed thinks you'll do great with Sangria," she said, "She's a bit old, but she's tough and she's good at looking out for others whether they're horse or people. Besides you have great hands, you'll do just fine."
Cassidy nodded and finished her cereal.
"I just have to call Jason and make sure he's fine with the paperwork and we'll meet up with Jed in the barn and get going."
Jed walked into the kitchen where Alice sat at the table eating a plate of eggs and reading a newspaper.
"Would you like anything," she said when she saw him.
"No thanks," he said, "Bonnie made sure I had a huge plate of eggs and hash browns before I left."
"So you'll meet up with Fiona and Cassidy in the barn?"
"Yeah, Fiona 's hoping that keeping Cassidy busy will keep her mind off of her boyfriend."
"It might but not for long," Alice said, "Love and romance are very serious issues for a girl Cassidy's age."
"She'll have plenty of time for more of that," Jed said, "She's only a young girl and there's men out there who prey on that."
Alice smiled at Jed, thinking you could take the man out of law enforcement but not vice versa.
"She'll be fine out there with Sangria taking care of her," Alice said, sipping her coffee.
"We got the sheriff's report taken on the rover," Jed said, "So it should be no problem getting insurance to pay for the damage."
"I don't give a damn about who pays for it," Alice said, "Whoever did that could have hurt someone."
"Well, the sheriff said it's likely a bunch of kids."
"Convenient, considering everyone knows he's in Parker's back pocket," she said, "How bad do you think this could get?"
"I don't know," Jed said, "But it's not very promising so far if a cracked windshield is only the beginning."
Chance and Brody were sitting in the car, conducting yet another stakeout in yet another location in the underbelly of L.A. Chance with his binoculars in hand and Brody with his beloved Hoagies right next to him. While looking through zoom lens at yet another quiet structure, Chance was beginning to feel like he was in the middle of a bad rendition of the film, Groundhog Day.
"You look tired," Brody said, "Busy social life keeping you up late?"
Chance just looked at him.
"Okay, I heard that our missing in action jewel thief might actually be fencing his merchandise here."
"That's what you said about the warehouse.'
"Hey, maybe he called it an early night," Brody said, "or the middleman didn't show."
"It looks just as quiet here," Chance said, looking at the boarded up property which had housed a pawn shop, one of many on the side street.
"That shop closed down months ago,' Brody said, "Shame too. In these current economic times, business should be booming."
The building looked quiet.
"It doesn't look like business is booming there now," Chance said, "Even on the black market today."
Brody picked up one of his sandwiches and unwrapped it. Chance steeled himself for the strong smell but noticed that at least for today, Brody kept the anchovies away.
"Oh the wife wants me to stop eating so many of them," he said, "Or she'll stop kissing me when I get home."
Chance suppressed a laugh.
"Smart woman," he said.
"So you going to hit it off with Ginger tonight at the museum get-together?"
Chance put down his binoculars.
"She gave us an open invite to the event," he said, "If you and your wife want to attend, you're welcome."
"My wife says I spend too much time away from the house," Brody said, "She's putting her foot down again."
"My uncle is taking Sophia to the event," Chance said, "And Ginger seems like a very nice woman."
"So you said," Brody said, "Just watch yourself and your billions around her."
"Millions," Chance corrected, "And she might be wealthier than I am. It's possible for a woman to become wealthy in her own right."
"True, but maybe you should check her out before you agree to go out with her."
"Why all this distrust anyway," Chance said, "How'd you ever wind up getting married?"
"We had to," Brody said, "We jumped the gun so to speak."
"Oh," Chance said.
"Not that I regret getting married," Brody said, "I mean the wife and the kids are great but still..."
"I saw you flirting with my former partner at my party," Chance said.
"Don't worry, as you know, she cut me to the quick and put me in my place real fast," Brody said, "Classy lady but definitely not interested."
"It's not personal," Chance said, "She's just been going through a lot for a while."
"I know," Brody said, "And when I found out what happened that day before she got there, I felt badly about my behavior."
"I'm not too proud of my own," Chance said.
Brody put his Hoagie down.
"Why, what did you do?"
Chance looked up and saw the man leaving the shuttered shop.
"Look, there he goes."
The man darted his head back and forth looking down the street and then headed toward an alley.
"Maybe he's just getting a bite to eat," Brody said.
"Maybe he's meeting his contact in the alley," Chance said, opening the car door.
Both of them got out of the car and prepared to follow the man on foot, staying some distance behind him.
"Do you think he's got the jewels?"
"I doubt it," Chance said, "Too risky. He might give the buyer a location to find them."
They saw the man walk into the alley, and then stop to wait for someone. Chance and Brody crept towards the end of the alley and hid behind a large dumpster.
"At least now he can't smell us coming," Chance said.
They looked up to see a man walking up to their guy.
Fiona looked back to see how Cassidy was handling Sangria as they rode with Jed and Reed across the ranch. Also riding with them was Carter who looked like a younger version of his brother, Reed. To her relief, she saw that Sangria appeared patient with the novice rider on her back and that Carter rode alongside her tossing out helpful tips.
"Keep your hands soft on the reins," Carter said, "You're doing very good."
On the other hand, Fiona thought, Christina had sent Cassidy to the ranch to get her away from older guys so maybe she should watch this carefully.
"How old is Carter," Fiona asked Reed.
"He'll be 17, next month," Reed said, also noticing the pair.
So he just looked older. Still, she intended to keep an eye on the young man. After all, she had once been 14 herself, the age Cassidy was now and that's what scared her.
Fiona looked up at the sound of Jed's voice and saw the mustangs. Several females and their young foals eating grass on the next meadow. They reined in their horses to watch the small group.
"So these aren't regular horses," Cassidy said.
"They're mustangs, descended from horses that were once trained but then became wild again," Jed said, "Coming full circle."
"They don't look much different," she said.
"You can't see the part that's different right away," Fiona said.
"Are there like any guy mustangs?"
"Sure," Fiona said, "Not as many because stallions can't live near one another but there's several in these parts including Diablo Del Sol."
"He's a long-time fixture in this valley," Jed said, "Some people don't think he really exists because he only shows himself to those he wants to see him."
"Have you seen him," Cassidy asked.
Fiona shook her head.
"No, I heard him one night and it's something I'll never forget," Fiona said, "When I was here the first time. But Montana saw him when he was riding up to help Jed and I at the cabin. He said that Diablo saved his life."
Cassidy nodded thoughtfully.
"I hope I get to see him," she said.
"You might just do that," Jed said, "But you can never tell. I saw him a couple times myself."
They looked across the meadow to see the two mares looking back at them. But they stayed there with their foals eating grass and didn't run.
Chance and Brody watched the men talking and then one of them pulled something out of his pocket. Brody reached for his camera to film the transaction but his foot stepped backward on top of a discarded aluminum can making noise. The two men looked up and saw them.
"Damn," Brody said.
The men took off and Chance took off after them, with Brody on his heels. The two men split up after they left the alley, leaving the two in pursuit having to choose which way to go. Chance took off after the one they had seen leave the pawn shop and both of them weaved through traffic until they hit the other side of the street. Chance tried to keep up with the guy but it appeared as if the man had grown wings on his feet and he pulled away. Chance tried to turn the corner when he did and tripped over a piece of junk lying on the sidewalk, falling to the ground and rolling over.
When he looked back, the man was nowhere to be seen and several pedestrians were looking down at him in curiosity. Brody's face then appeared and his partner pulled him on his feet.
"Are you okay," Brody said.
Chance brushed himself off but found his shoulder throbbing, one that had served once as the final resting spot for a bullet.
"What happened to the other guy?"
"He jammed out of there," Brody said, "I think he is probably on his way back to his boss."
Chance tried to move his shoulder around and sighed.
"Hey do you need some ice on that," Brody said, "Some morphine?"
Chance glared at him.
"It'll be fine," he said, "Old battle wound."
They both walked back to the car.
"This field work does get tougher as you get older," Brody said.
"I'm not as old as you are," Chance said.
"True, but it's not necessarily the years, it's the mileage."
Chance cocked his head.
"Maybe you have me there," he said.
They reached the car which fortunately still rested where it had been parked.
"Look Chance, maybe you should take it easy the rest of the day, rest the shoulder so you'll be ready for the art museum event tonight."
Chance started the car and the engine turned over.
"I…We've got too much work to do," he said, "The day's still too young."
The group of them headed into the kitchen at the ranch house for some lunch. Alice sat at the table, reading through some papers.
"You got a call from Jason," Alice said, "He's back in Silver Lode. There's a huge crowd there by City Hall. Maybe you and Cassidy better get on down there to find out what's up."
"Let's go," Cassidy said, "I want to see what's going on."
Fiona looked at Jed and she pulled out her phone.
"Hi, this is Jason, Fiona is that you?"
"Yeah, we just got back from some surveying of some mustang pairs this morning. What's up?"
She heard noise from a crowd in the background.
"You'd better get on down here," Jonathon said, "Parker's going to make an announcement in about 40 minutes."
"We'll be right there," Fiona said and as she clicked off her phone, she wondered what the hell had happened now.