Chance drove down the highway back to the ranch, while Fiona sat quietly beside him looking out the window.
"How was your flight," she said.
"Hair raising coming through the Rockies into that tiny airport," he said, "Though the view is always beautiful and well worth the flight."
"Thanks for coming," she said.
"Thanks for inviting me," he said.
She turned away from the window, looking at him.
"I thought you came because I got into trouble."
"I was still fueling the plane when I got the news from Alice that you were missing," he said, "I was flying out to the ranch this morning to see you and to do some of that relaxing that everyone says I need to do."
She smiled, ruefully.
"Some vacation," she said.
He looked at her bruised face.
"It's off to an eventful start for sure," Chance said, "Which means it can only get better."
"I've got to get back to work," she said, "I've got to download the work we did last night on the laptop."
"Now hold on," Chance said, "I know this is very important to a lot of people but you need to take it easy…"
He read the look she gave him.
"At least for now," he said, "You can get up and knock yourself out tomorrow but today, take it easy."
"I can't," she said, "I have legal papers to finish up today and more land surveying tomorrow along with more legal work. That accident wiped out most of the legal team. I'm all that's left on this end."
"So, you need to get all this work completed by when?"
"I've got to submit it to the federal court in Denver next week," she said, "There's a couple of attorneys up there working on this and then we're all appearing for oral presentations several days later."
"I can help with the field work," he said, "If you need it, so you can concentrate on the legal side."
She looked at him and started to say something.
"I know you don't need any help," he said, "But I'd like to help and you know how much I love riding in open country so doing the field work would be more relaxing than almost any activity I can think of engaging in."
Chance watched the furrows on her brow form, knowing she at least was thinking about it.
"And I'm only $500 a day plus expenses," he added.
"Okay…," she said finally, "I guess you could help Jed but I'm coming on a couple of those field trips."
"I hope so," he said, "After you're feeling better."
"Then you have a deal," she said and they shook on it.
With that settled, they continued driving back to the ranch both lost in their thoughts.
Fiona opened the door to the cabin. She saw Cassidy's laptop and her iPod on the coffee table.
"I can see someone's back already," she said as Chance followed her in with his luggage, "You can take the spare bedroom. Cassidy can sleep in the loft."
"I can sleep in the loft," Chance said.
Cassidy breezed in the living room with a sandwich and a coke.
"No, I've already moved my things up there," she said, "You're stuck with the other bedroom."
Chance went to find it to drop off his luggage.
"You look pretty gnarly," Cassidy said, looking at Fiona 's face, "Put on a wig and some face powder and you could be the Bride of Frankenstein."
"Gee thanks," she said.
"Was it scary," Cassidy asked.
"The accident," Fiona asked.
"I don't remember much about what happened," Fiona said.
"You mean you have amnesia?"
"No, thank god," Fiona said, "Been there, done that."
"Anyone want anything to eat," Chance said, when he returned to the living room.
Cassidy looked at one then the other.
"You're not going to like go all domestic are you?"
Fiona tried to suppress a laugh, because her face did hurt.
"No, no need to worry about that in this lifetime," she said, "I'm not that hungry. Maybe some soup."
"Alice's brought some over already," Cassidy said, "Some of her vegetable and beef soup. It's on the stove warming up."
Fiona wandered into the kitchen.
"It smells wonderful," she said, "Who wants some?"
"I'll do it," Chance said, "Why don't you sit on the couch and rest?"
"Yeah, join me Fiona," Cassidy said, "I need some help on my screenplay."
Chance mouthed a silent "thanks" to her.
"What are you working on," Fiona said, sitting down beside Cassidy on the sofa.
"Oh, the usual, radiation turns students into zombies at some high school in a Midwestern town…"
"Sounds eventful," Fiona said, "what do you need help on?"
"I need to know how to write for one of my characters," Cassidy said, "She's the only student not to be infected by the zombies and she's got this crush on this guy who's what they call, the town bad boy…"
Fiona nodded, while Chance put a bowl of soup on the table in front of her.
"I think I see where you're coming from," she said, "I advise that they don't kiss on the first date or the second…maybe the third."
"Who said anything about kissing," Cassidy said, "It's all about the crisis involving the zombie invasion that brings these two people from different worlds…"
"The opposite sides of the universe," Chance interjected.
"Yes, exactly and even though they're so different, they're drawn together by a common goal which is to save the high school and then the world from this and all future zombie invasions. After that's done, then they can go make out."
"Sounds like a winner to me," he said, winking at her.
"Exactly what rating are you giving to the relationship between these two characters," Fiona said.
Cassidy looked puzzled.
"You know, G, PG, PG-13…"
"Oh that," Cassidy said, "PG-13…because those films tend to attract the largest cross-sections of the movie going population and make the most money at the box office. I want my own Corvette by the time I'm 20."
"That sounds like a plan," Chance said.
"What about college," Fiona said.
"Most of the major directors flunked out," she said, "But Grandma and Aunt Christina put their feet down and say I have to go, so I'm thinking of some film schools in California."
"You'd make a good lawyer," Fiona said.
"Hmph, no thanks," Cassidy said, "I'm not spending the formative years of my life locked up in a library all the time studying books when there's a world out there."
Fiona started to say something but looked at Chance and thought better of it. She finished her soup and sat back on the couch.
Cassidy suddenly hugged her.
"I'm glad you're back safe."
"Thanks Cassidy," she said, stroking her hair, "I'm hoping that Jason and Maggie will recover."
Cassidy sprang up and went back to the kitchen.
"She's really growing up quickly," Chance said.
"Too quickly," Fiona said, "I'm worried about her."
"She seems like she has a good head on her shoulders and a hell of an imagination."
"Christina and her husband have had their hands full with her," Fiona said, "She's a sweet girl and smart as a whip but she's a teenager and that's a confusing time."
"It'll be good practice for raising their own kids," Chance said, "And it's good for Cassidy to know that there's a lot of people who care about her welfare."
"I love having her here," Fiona said, "She's been a great help but I think she's already got a boyfriend."
They heard someone knock on the front door.
Cassidy ran up to answer it.
"Check to see who's there first," Fiona said.
"We're in the middle of a ranch," Cassidy said, swinging the door open, "Who else would it be?"
Jed stood there with Bonnie, who brought some food.
"Hey, I made some muffins and some stew, where should I put it?"
"In the kitchen," Fiona said, "I'll help you."
The two women left the living room.
"Looks like you're settled here," Jed said.
" Fiona 's promised to get some rest today if she can work tomorrow," he said, "And to let me help you with the field work."
"Great to have you along," he said, "You said you wanted to go to the crash site."
"Yeah, I want to look for any evidence which will show what happened last night," Chance said, "Before the authorities have a chance to clean it up."
"I got some guys who can come with us," Jed said, "They just finished some ranching duties and could leave right now."
Chance reached for his jacket.
"I'm ready," he said, as Fiona and Bonnie came back into the room.
"You're leaving," Fiona said.
"Bonnie's going to stay with you while we go out to the scene of the crash," Jed said.
"Tell us what you find when you get back," she said, "And be careful."
Chance looked at her before he left.
Fiona closed the door behind them.
"I don't know if it's such a great idea sending them out there to go look at the car."
Bonnie put her arm around Fiona's shoulder.
"Why don't you sit on the couch and I'll get some tea," she said.
She did that and Bonnie brought them both some tea and muffins. Cassidy took some muffins and a can of cola and returned to writing about zombies on her laptop.
"They'll be fine," Bonnie said, "Jed said that they need to get to the car before the local authorities do."
Fiona sipped her tea.
"I don't trust the sheriff to do a thorough and unbiased investigation of the accident," she said, "Especially since I don't think it was an accident."
"You starting to remember anything?"
Fiona shook her head.
"No, just seeing that bright light," she said, "I think it was getting larger before everything went black."
"It must have been another car," Bonnie said, "Maybe they hit you?"
"Then why didn't they stop and help us," Fiona said, "Unless it was on purpose."
"To run you off the road and kill the three of you," Bonnie said, "And the chances were high that if you hit the bottom of the gorge, you would have all died."
"If someone did it intentionally, they didn't have to kill us," Fiona said, "They just had to put us out of commission and except for me, that's what happened."
"Still, if they were caught, they could face serious criminal charges," Bonnie said.
"Maybe that's why they didn't stick around to do a body count," Fiona said.
Chance, Jed and the other men reached the crash site. The sky had turned slate gray again and a fine mist fell from it.
"I've got some rope," Jed said.
"Tie it to your truck," Chance said.
Reed and Jed did that while Chance looked for the best route down the steep gorge to where he could see the wrecked car partially hidden by shrubbery.
"We're going to have to go slow," he said, "The rain might make for slippery going."
"I'll send Reed down with you," he said, "I'll stay up here with Mac."
Chance and Reed tied the rope to themselves and slowly inched down the gorge, careful to pick out their toe holds and where to place their hands before continuing. Chance wiped the sweat off his face several times during the journey.
Finally, they reached the car and Chance took out a small camera and began taking photos of it.
"What should we look for," Reed asked.
"Traces of paint that don't match that of the vehicle," Chance said, "That can be critical."
Reed started inspecting the exterior of the car.
"And also look for any unusual dents," Chance said, "It's going to be tricky for a vehicle this badly damaged but it's also important. Look for anything that doesn't fit with the scene here."
Chance looked inside the broken window into what remained of the inside, which contained large pieces of crushed metal and shattered glass. The most significant damage had been done to the front seat area of the car where Jason and Maggie had sat. Less damage from the impact was present in the rear seat where FIONA had been sitting. Still, after looking carefully at the debris even in that section, Chance realized how lucky she had been to avoid death and more serious injury.
He saw possessions that belonged to the lawyers including a laptop computer and a briefcase and also remains of emergency equipment used to evaluate and treat the injuries suffered by those remaining inside the car.
"I'm not sure I can find anything," Reed said.
Chance looked at him.
"We need to keep looking."
Fiona began to feel sleepy and wondered if Bonnie had spiked the tea. She relaxed on the couch and listened to Bonnie tell her about her latest attempts at matchmaking one of the rancher's daughters with the new town pharmacist.
"I think there's a Christmas wedding in their future," Bonnie said.
"You're really sure of your matches, aren't you?"
"I'm not the one matching them," Bonnie said, "I'm just getting them together."
"And there's a difference?"
"Well, if you believe in God or fate or a higher power outside ourselves, you believe that it's a matching of two halves which are seeking each other out."
"You mean like soul mates?"
"You really believe that's true," Fiona said.
"I believe that anything's possible in the name of love," Bonnie said.
"I used to think that way," Fiona said, "In another lifetime."
"What about now?"
"I don't trust myself to know what I'm feeling when I'm with a man," she said, "I feel disconnected from myself most of the time. Fortunately, I'm too busy with my life for it to matter much."
"Honey, it's going to take some time after what you experienced," Bonnie said.
"Maybe," Fiona said, "But it's really nice that people like you help people find their other halves and help bring them happiness."
"I've found it very rewarding," Bonnie said, putting her cup down.
"Jason made a pass at me last night," she said, "He wanted to spend a few days with me in Denver after the court hearing."
Bonnie's brows lifted.
"What did you do," she asked.
"I said I was attracted to him but turned him down," Fiona said, "it was just sex he was interested in and a casual fling, not me."
"How did he take it?"
"Pretty well," Fiona said, "I did it partly because I know that Maggie's crazy about him and doesn't think he knows her feelings."
She looked thoughtful.
"And if he knew my recent back story, he'd run."
"Not if he's a man worth knowing," Bonnie said.
Bonnie shook her head.
"No maybes here," she said, "It's a test of a man's character and his feelings about a woman if he knows all about her and doesn't run away."
Chance looked at the car again and then he saw it. Chips of black paint, on one of the rear corners of the vehicle, lying adjacent to a sizable dent.
"Bingo," he said, "Reed take a look at this."
"They were hit by a black vehicle."
"Which means it definitely was no accident," Chance said, then pulled out a small plastic baggy, "We need to take a very small sample of the paint. I can fed ex it to my partner out in L.A. to test it, see if we can reduce the population of vehicles in this area that could be responsible."
Reed watched as Chance gingerly scraped a few flakes of paint off the car into the baggy which he sealed.
"How long have you been doing this," he asked.
"Sometimes, I can't even remember."
Reed looked at the sky.
"We'd better head back up," he said.
"I just need to take some more photos," Chance said.
Bonnie looked down at Fiona who had drifted off to sleep on the sofa. She took the cups into the kitchen to wash them. Cassidy sat at the breakfast table, reading a book.
" Fiona 's asleep on the sofa so we'll need to be quiet so she can get some rest," Bonnie said.
"Do you want to play some cards," Bonnie said.
"Sure," Cassidy said, "I think there's a deck somewhere."
She found one in a kitchen drawer.
"So what are we playing," she asked, sitting back down.
"How about some Hearts?"
Just short of reaching the board work, Fiona turned around to face him.
"Okay, you got my attention," she said.
"Just that I miss you," Chance said, "I miss working with you, I miss talking to you and I miss seeing you. I miss our friendship."
She looked down at the sand.
"So do I," she said.
"We live thousands of miles from each other and our lives are separate."
"I needed to be in Houston," she said, "My career is there, I've got friends and my counselor is one of the best in her field."
"I know," he said, "I know that's where your life is now."
"And your life is here," she said, "You've got people to help you with your cases now and your friends. They seem like very nice people."
"Yeah they are," Chance said, "But none of them is my best friend."
She stepped up on the boardwalk.
"L.A.'s not the same place for me now," she said, "I have a hard time even going into your office building."
"Because of what happened…"
"I know it sounds like something I can just get over," she said, "I mean, it's just a building and I've got a lot of good memories there."
"But not your last one," he said, "Inside the parking garage."
She nodded slowly as they continued walking.
"I'm trying really hard…"
"I know…," he said, "Sometimes I think you try too hard."
She cocked her head at him.
"What do you mean?"
He took a deep breath.
"You try to push yourself to try to be someone you're not ready to be."
She digested his words.
Brody ran up the boardwalk and both of them broke their gaze to look at him.
"What's going on," Chance asked.
"I just got a lead on the extortion case," Brody said, out of breath.
"Now," Chance said, "It's getting late and I've got Fiona here."
Brody looked at her.
"You look really nice in that dress," he said, "She can come along with us. It's just a little stakeout."
"Sure," she said, "Count me in."
Chance took her hand in his as they followed Brody back to the beach house.
Chance opened the cabin door and saw Fiona lying on the couch fast asleep. Her papers were cast on the table in front of her.
Bonnie walked out and saw Chance and Jed. She put her finger over her lips.
"She's sleeping," she said, "So we'll have to be quiet. I've got some soup in the kitchen and some leftover muffins."
They followed her and Cassidy jumped up from where she was sitting when she saw them.
"We were playing cards," she said.
Bonnie shook her head.
"She beat the tail off of me," she said, "I think we have a ringer."
"What's that," Cassidy asked.
"Someone who's a pro but passed off as an amateur in a competition."
"Cool," Cassidy said.
"So what did you find," Bonnie said.
Chance looked at Jed.
"Paint chips off the rear fender," he said.
"So that means they were hit."
"The paint was black," Jed said, "Chance forwarded the evidence he collected overnight to his partner out in L.A."
"Didn't you say the truck that you, Reed and Fiona encountered on the federal land was black?"
"Yeah it was," Jed said, "But there's a lot of black vehicles around here."
"So what does the sheriff have to say about this," Bonnie said, "Or should I even ask."
"He doesn't know," Jed said, "We had to collect some evidence ourselves in case it 'disappears' during the official investigation."
"I wouldn't put anything past Daniels," Bonnie said, "I wish I never voted for him. Of course, he ran unopposed and said all the right things."
"Most of his money came from developers," Jed said, "Maybe Kilroy was one of them."
"But would he obstruct an attempted murder investigation," Bonnie asked.
"Bonnie, there's some serious money involved in this project," Jed said, "Millions of dollars."
"People have killed for a lot less," Chance said.
"True," Bonnie said.
Jed looked at his watch.
"Bonnie, we'd better get going," he said, "I got to pick up some cattle that are out in the far pasture."
She nodded and picked up her things. Chance walked them to the door.
Jed looked over at Fiona on the couch.
"Make sure she gets plenty of sleep," Jed said, "I'll talk with you later."
Chance said goodbye and Cassidy chimed in somewhere from the kitchen. Then he closed the door and walked over to Fiona He watched her murmuring in her sleep and snuggling into the couch. No need to wake
from her much needed slumber. He walked to the linen and brought out a light blanket to place on top of her. He sat in a chair nearby and picked up his magazine and started reading as she slept.
© Copyright 2016 Marzy Dotes. All rights reserved.