Fiona and Cassidy walked into the packed city council chambers, to find seats. At the front of the room, Parker and members of the council sat on a dais which was arranged in a semicircle. Extra chairs had been placed in the back of the room but even with those, it was standing room only as men, women and children crowded into the building.
Cassidy took in the sight of people surrounding her.
"All this for a bunch of horses?"
"It's not just the mustangs," Fiona said, "It's a way of life."
Jason and Jed walked up to them.
"I got us seats in the front," Jason said, and they walked towards them.
Fiona put her things down and sat, and as she did, she saw Keely and the other developers sitting on the other side of the aisle. They didn't look happy to see her.
Jason handed her a folder and she looked through it.
"We might have a chance to read part of the letter," he said, "But they might try to shut us down."
"We'll have to stop them," Fiona said, looking around as more people congregated in the chamber.
Parker pounded the gavel from his seat and gradually the room quieted down as people focused their attention on the front of the room.
"Welcome to the weekly meeting of the city council. Tonight we are here to discuss the proposed conceptual plans for a new ski resort which will be presented by Steve Keely. There will also be an opportunity for public comment."
Suddenly, the room came to life again as people shifted in their seats.
"I've got plenty to say," an elderly man stood up, "I've been ranching in the valley for 50 years."
"Yeah, no outsider is going to come in and tell us what to do with our land," a woman said from the audience.
Parker raised his hands to quiet everyone.
"Now hold on there," he said, "You'll all get your turn to speak after Mr. Keely does his presentation. After you hear what he has to say, I'm sure that will alleviate some of your concerns."
The crowd rumbled, but the room became quiet again.
"Now without any further ado," Parker said, "I'll let Mr. Keely explain his proposed project to the body."
Jason and Fiona looked at each other then sat back to listen.
Chance and Brody sat in a car at another stakeout. Brody ate another Hoagie which stunk up the car and Chance realized that it was getting harder to tell one stakeout apart from the next.
The phone rang. Chance took the call.
"Hello, this is Chance."
"It's Ginger," she said, "We met the night of the auction."
"Yes we did," he said, "By the Adonis ice sculpture."
"You remember," she said.
"Partly because the office just received the bill for payment on it this morning."
"That doesn't sound fair," she said, "You were just doing your civic duty by going after that purse snatcher."
"I did knock it down and break it into pieces," Chance said, "It's not like it could be put back together."
"Still, that was by far the most exciting auction that organization ever hosted," Ginger said, "They could have covered the cost of the ice sculpture with the entertainment budget."
"Any particular reason you're calling?"
"Oh yeah," she said, "The museum is having a special premiere tomorrow night for a new exhibit that's being unveiled. I thought you and your friends might want to attend."
"That sounds tempting," Chance said, "I'll pass the information along."
"I'll leave some tickets for you at the door," she said.
Chance clicked his phone shut. Brody looked at him.
"Don't tell me, it was her."
"'Her' meaning Ginger from the other night?"
"She's set her sights on you," he said.
"You say that like it's a bad thing," Chance said, "She seemed very nice the other night."
"That's how it will be, now that she's probably run a background check on you and found out about all your assets," Brody said, "Dating's gotten so much more technical than it was back in the day."
"You've never even met her," Chance said, keeping one eye on the target of the stakeout, this time a warehouse.
"I don't have to," Brody said, "She had that look."
"Let's just drop this and stick to the job at hand, okay?"
The chambers rocked in absolute chaos. After Keely had given his presentation and the city council had praised him for everything from his conceptual design of the ski resort to knowing how to operate a Power Point presentation, Parker had finally opened the topic up for public comment.
Immediately, those in the audience began to line up on opposite sides of the room to speak. Early on, members of the local business chamber had on cue, gone up and lauded the pending arrival of the new ski resort to the area even though it hadn't been approved yet.
"All the people on their Rolodexes," Fiona had commented to Jason, "They pick up the phone, they come running."
But after the fans of the project had finished speaking and sat down, the dozens of those in opposition to the placement of a tourist trap in their valley began to speak at the podium. With each one, the beaming smile which had lit Parker's face dimmed bit by bit. Each time someone finished speaking, the others in the audience would cheer, some while standing on their feet. Then Parker would pound his gavel again to get people to quiet down.
Jed, Reed and the other ranchers had made speeches about how they had worked the land in the valley for years, tending cattle and raising horses. How their corner of the world had escaped the development which had impacted other valleys in the state. How they wanted to keep the land as it was to leave to their children and grandchildren just as it had been left to them. Fiona thought she saw one city councilwoman wipe a tear away but she wasn't sure. The rest of the faces listening to the speeches appeared set in stone.
Jed walked back to where Fiona and Jason were sitting with Cassidy who took careful notes of the proceedings.
"I think it's going very well," he said, before sitting down.
"This turnout is great," she said, "I don't think the council or Parker expected it."
"Hopefully, it will give the undecided vote something to think about," Jed said, "Especially with elections coming up."
Fiona left to line up for a chance to speak to the council. Alice stood in line in front of her.
"Isn't it great how everyone came out to speak against the ski resort," Alice said.
"I think someone's phone tree had something to do with this."
"I activated it," Alice said, "But there's people here who aren't even from the valley."
"I called some people in town," Bonnie said, "Not everyone's in cahoots with the chamber club."
Fiona passed where Keely sat with the other developers at their section. The glance he threw her way wasn't as friendly as it had been when she met Keely at a barbecue not long after coming to town.
Alice brought down the chambers with her speech about how she and her husband Gordon had settled down to a life of ranching in the valley to raise their family. She shed a tear while she spoke and she wasn't the only one.
When Fiona reached the podium, she looked at the city officials and handed the clerk a stack of documents to pass out to each member of the council sitting in front of her. They flipped through the pages noncommittally, then looked up at her almost in unison with stunned expressions on their faces.
"Yes, that document is what it appears to be," she said, "It will be filed through the courts tomorrow. It's a temporary injunction against any further land development in the valley until a future hearing on this matter is set."
Keely swore and pounded his fist on the table. Parker looked like he was cursing under his breath from behind his weakening smile. The rest of the city council members just looked at each other. The audience cheered.
"We were going to wait but then after receiving a declaration from the Flynns and also the Wyatts who told of the methods being used to persuade them to sell their land, we pushed it ahead on the schedule."
Parker stood up.
"This is most improper," he said. "And probably is illegal to boot."
He looked over at the city's attorney for support but the bespectacled young man just shrugged.
One of the council woman spoke up.
"We need some clarification on this matter," she said, "We'll have to adjourn to closed session to discuss this any further."
The crowd stood up and roared in protest.
"You can't make this decision away from the public and take it behind closed doors," a man said.
Fiona tapped on the microphone.
"Excuse me, but I believe that the action that you're proposing might be in violation of state law," she said, "At any point, this is a courtesy notice of what's going to take place tomorrow. "
Parker called for order.
"That is for us to determine," he said, "We will adjourn the current proceedings and call for a special meeting in the next several days to issue a response."
Everyone stood up to leave the building. Keely and his partners walked up to speak with Parker and several other council members.
Fiona walked back to where Cassidy was sitting.
"We'd better get going," she said, "the meeting's over."
"Are they always this exciting, a bunch of adults arguing?"
"No sometimes, they're even better," she said, "People start throwing things."
"That really happens," Cassidy said, "No way."
Jason walked up to them.
"A group of us are meeting at the diner to plan our next move," he said, "We'd better explain to them that the battle's just beginning."
Fiona nodded as she gathered her things.
Chance walked off the elevator into his lobby and saw his uncle sitting by the bar.
"What's up," he said.
"Oh nothing," Mac said, "I ran those names through this wonderful thing called the internet but I don't think the sites that came up involve the same individuals."
"Have I gotten any calls?"
"You always get calls," Mac said, "Did she call…no but a woman named Ginger called to get your phone number."
"I talked with her and she's invited us all to a premiere art exhibit at the museum where she works."
"I think it would be a great cultural experience," Mac said, "I'll ask Sophie if she has a younger sister and we can go together."
"No thanks, Uncle Mac," Chance said, raising his hand, "I can handle my own social networking."
He sat down at the bar with his uncle after pouring himself some scotch.
"Tough day at work," Mac asked.
"I'm beginning to mix up my stakeouts," Chance said, "Brody keeps trying to get me to take a vacation."
Mac looked at his nephew carefully.
"Do you think you need one?"
"Sometimes," he said, "The caseload's not getting any smaller even with hiring extra investigators."
"It did pile up when you and Fiona were gone all those months," Mac said.
"I know. Which is why I have been busting my butt to get it back to where I could handle it."
"Then take a vacation," Mac said, "Why don't you go out to the ranch where Fiona 's at and help her out on her case?"
"She said she didn't need an investigator," Chance said.
"She said that because she didn't want you to feel obligated to drop all your work and fly out," Mac said, "But I think she would appreciate it if you did come out and visit."
"Maybe when things settle down around here," Chance said, "It would be nice to get away and relax."
The diner had just enough tables to accommodate the several dozen people who appeared there after the adjournment of the meeting to discuss what had happened. The waitress brought them pitchers of ice tea and lemonade to start them out.
"Did we win back there," Bonnie asked as she sat next to Jed.
"I think we got a stay," Fiona said, "but probably only for several days."
"Did you see how ticked off those developers were," Bonnie said, "And Parker too. He looked like he was going to explode."
"I don't trust those developers at all," Alice said, "I have a feeling they aren't going to take this setback very lightly."
"We've got them where we want them," Jason said.
Fiona sat with Jason and Cassidy in a booth saved by Maggie, the paralegal who was working with them.
"Do you want anything to eat Cassidy," she said, "They've got great burgers."
Cassidy put down her notebook on the table and picked up a menu.
"Any chili cheeseburgers?"
"Sure," she said, "I'll have one too."
"We've got to work on what's going to happen after we file the legal papers tomorrow," Jason said, "I suspect their attorneys will throw a lot of paper our way in response."
"That's to be expected," she said, "What's going to make or break us is what the judge decides."
"That's why we have to have our ducks in a row in federal court," Jason said, "We'll do our part on this end and the team up in Denver can handle that end."
"I can help," Fiona said, "I'm licensed in federal court. You're licensed here so you should be the leg man on this end."
"Okay, that will work," Jason said, "We make a great team, don't we?"
"Yes we do," she said, "And with the ranchers, we're going to win this battle."
They clinked their glasses.
A bartender poured the vodka and handed it to Keely who walked back to a booth where two other men were sitting.
"The injunction's not worth the paper it's printed on," one of the men assured him.
Keely pounded his glass on the table, startling the other men.
"If the judge grants them a permanent one, it could shut down this project for good," he said, "And I've funneled a lot of money into it already."
"What about your lawyers?"
"They say we have to prepare for the permanent hearing and raise a compelling enough argument for the judge to decide in our favor and throw the injunction out."
"And if that doesn't work?"
Keely sipped his vodka and looked back at them.
"Then we have to use other methods to stop them in their tracks," he said, "No one and I mean no one must interfere with the success of this project."
"Got you boss."
"In fact, let's not wait until that hearing to get the ball rolling back in our court."
Chance finished lifting weights and wiped the sweat off his forehead with a towel. He had hoped that working out in his gym would help relieve some of the stress that his business was causing him. Not that he didn't enjoy the career he had built for himself, he loved it but he felt with so many cases, he had less time to commit to each one in the personalized style that he had built his reputation on during the past few years.
Mac wandered in with a glass of juice and handed it to Chance, who gulped it down.
"Do you feel better," Mac said, "You were at it for over an hour."
"I really thought that hiring those extra four ex-cops would help but I think I'm just going to have to stop taking new cases until I catch up."
Mac looked at him.
"Is this what you really want to do?"
Chance looked up in surprise.
"My work," he said, "Of course it is. What kind of question is that?"
"I've never seen you this tense about it," Mac said, "I've seen it consume you in other ways but that's not the same thing."
"I still love the investigating part, the never knowing what the day's going to be like part," Chance said, "or the night for that matter…"
"I'm not sure I'm cut out for the office part of it," he said, "And with Fiona building a new life for herself in Texas and Christina working for Montana Enterprises out there as well, I haven't been able to find anyone who has their talents."
"And their dedication," Mac finished.
"They helped me build the agency to what it is today."
"What's really bothering you Chance," Mac said, "This office work or the fact that you're in L.A. and they're not?"
That stopped Chance in his tracks.
"I miss them," he said, "I miss the days we worked together especially the earliest days."
"So what do you plan to do about it?"
Chance paused for a while to sort out the thoughts which were racing through his head.
"I plan to try to reduce my caseload," he said, leaving the gym.
Mac watched him go and shook his head.
Chance walked out onto the helipad and stood at its edge looking out over the lights of L.A. He and Fiona both separately came out here to collect their thoughts and sort through their feelings when the need arose and most of the time it helped. He had poured himself some more scotch and had watched the activity which defined the night life in the vibrant city suddenly wishing he were miles away.
He pulled out his cell phone and punched some buttons. Someone standing thousands of miles away picked it up.
"Hi, Montana is that you?"
"Yes it is," he said, "I'm standing on the helipad looking at the night sky."
"I can picture you doing that," Fiona said, "How are things going there?"
"I've been very busy," he said, "Those new hires are a great boost to business but I'm still working through some cases."
"The price of success," she said.
"How are things going in Colorado?"
"Very well," she said, "Jason and I addressed a packed city council meeting today and told them about the injunction."
"How'd they take the news?"
"Not very well," she said, "But you should have seen all the residents, not just the ranchers, who came out and spoke against the project. It was truly inspiring. Even Cassidy was impressed."
"Cassidy's spending time out with you?"
"Christina sent her out to chill out after the breakup of her first big romance," Fiona said, "She was a big help tonight."
"So you're doing fine without an investigator," Chance said.
"Yes….but I really do miss you," she said, "So even if you decide you need a break from your work, it'd be great to see you again."
"I miss you too," Chance said, "It's not the same without you."
"I'm not staying away from L.A. to stay away from you," she said.
"I know that," he said, "And I'm really proud of you for what you've accomplished."
"Thank you," she said, smiling on the other end as she walked out into the corner of the parking lot at City Hall where she had parked her car.
"I'll see what I can do with this caseload…"
"Oh wait, Montana, I'm going to have to get back to you."
She hung up. He clicked off his phone and looked at it.
Fiona and Cassidy had walked to the rover while she was still talking to Chance on the phone. But Cassidy had cried out and pointed at the windshield. It had been cracked by a rock which had been wrapped in a copy of the letter that Fiona had presented to the city council at the meeting. Both rested on the hood of the car.
"Damn," Fiona said, as she looked at the damage done to the windshield. She looked around to see if anyone else was around but the lot was quiet. Jed and Bonnie finally caught up with them.
"What happened," he asked when he saw their facial expressions.
"Some jerk smashed the windshield with a rock," Cassidy said, unwrapping some gum and sticking it in her mouth.
He looked at the damage.
"I knew this might happen," Jed said, "Those developers were mighty pissed off that their project got shut down."
"We don't know it's even them," Fiona said, "They had copies of the letter but so did members of the city council and Parker."
"It doesn't matter," Jed said, "Somebody's really upset at how this meeting went down and they're blaming it on you. I doubt any other cars got hit in this lot."
"Maybe they got lucky," she said.
"Maybe they've been following you and know the make of your vehicle."
"I didn't even see it at first because I was on the phone with Montana."
"What did he think of it?"
"I didn't tell him," Fiona said, "No point in worrying him. He's got enough to keep him busy with his business in L.A."
"You've got to report it to the sheriff," Jed said.
"He'll just tell me I shouldn't worry my sweet little head about it," Fiona said, "that it was a prank by kids."
"We need to call him anyway," Jed said.
"Come on," Bonnie said, "Let's go back and wait in the store."
Chance and Brody drove down the highway back out to the warehouse which they had left hours earlier. After Fiona had hung up on him, Chance had discovered a phone call from his partner on call-waiting. He picked it up and Brody told him he had gotten a tip about a shipment being made at the warehouse.
"I guess they were too busy to show up this afternoon," Brody said, "So it's coming in tonight."
"It could be our client's jewelry," Chance said, turning off the highway.
"Sounds like it could be a huge shipment of stolen jewelry."
"I hope so," Chance said, "I would love to finally close this case out."
"Did I interrupt something with my phone call," Brody said.
Chance shook his head.
"I just gave Fiona a call to see how she was doing," he said.
"And what did she tell you?"
Chance drove down a darkened side street.
"She's doing fine," he said, "She and that lawyer she's been working with won a key victory today."
"That's really great," Brody said, "I'm happy for her."
Chance raised his brow at the other man's praise.
"Don't be surprised," Brody said, "I always thought she was too good to have ever hung out with you."
"Which makes her better than you," Chance said, "That I can agree with."
"Did she ask you to come out to Colorado?"
"She doesn't need an investigator," he said.
"You didn't answer my question."
"She said if I had a break in my work and I said I would clear some more cases and then…she said she had to go and hung up."
"That's what you get for keeping a lady waiting," Brody said as they pulled into the parking lot by the warehouse. Chance parked the car underneath a tree and they sat down to wait.
"I told you," Fiona said, as she paced outside by her car.
"Now hold on," Jed said, "The point was to get the written report taken. It doesn't matter what Sheriff Daniels says."
"He said it was kids," Fiona said, "Maybe he's right."
"Grownups blame everything on kids," Cassidy grumbled as she started listening to her iPod.
"These weren't kids," Jed said, "These were probably people upset about the bomb that you and Jason dropped at the meeting tonight."
"It could have been anybody," Fiona said, "That's one thing I've learned in my experiences."
"It's not going to stop the filing of the temporary papers and the permanent injunction next week in Denver," she said.
Jed crossed his arms.
"This could get rough," he said, "We're going to have to prepare for that."
"We have to do this regardless of how rough it gets," Fiona said, "This is very important to many people."
"And not just to those who are fighting against this project," Jed said.
From some distance away, someone sitting in a car watched them then started to make a phone call.
© Copyright 2016 Marzy Dotes. All rights reserved.
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