Fiona looked up along with other people who filled the parking lot surrounding City Hall to see Parker and other city council members come out of the building and stand on the steps in front of a line of television cameras and people holding microphones. People in the huge crowd stopped talking in groups and moved closer to the building as one organism to listen to the city council issue its announcement on the outcome of its closed session.
Parker moved ahead of the other elected officials, looking at the massive crowd in front of him. A woman who served on the city council joined him. After some employees of City Hall had moved a podium in front of him, Parker walked up to it and tapped the microphone.
Silence greeted him as everyone waited to see what he would tell them. Fiona tried to read his face, but couldn't decide which way he would go though she detected a trace of nervousness there. He glanced to the back of the crowd and she turned her head to where he looked and saw Kilroy standing with some of the other developers. She looked back at Parker who cleared his throat.
"Ladies and Gentlemen of Silver Lode, we the city council met in closed session with our city attorney and after he presented the facts of the situation and after we deliberated long and hard over this issue, we came to a majority vote."
"Just tell us what you've decided and skip the buildup," a man shouted from the crowd.
"If people will be quiet and listen, I'll tell you what the city council's decision was," Parker said, pulling at his collar.
"He looks like he's not very happy with the vote," Jed said to Fiona.
"The city council voted 3-2 not to use the town's money to fund the defense," Parker said, "But I exercised my veto power and overrode that decision."
"You can't do that," another voice yelled from the audience.
"Yes I can," Parker said, "It's in the town's bylaws. You are free to read a copy of them at the front desk inside this building."
The boos in the crowd filled the air and some of the city council members looked at each other, wondering if they should go back in the building.
"So the issue went back to a second vote to see if the city council could override my veto," Parker continued, "And one city council member said that she wanted to think on the issue some more so the decision has been postponed until further notice."
People in the crowd looked at each other. Some cheered while others booed and the crowd began to push against the City Hall, pinning the men holding television cameras against the steps.
Jason and Fiona climbed a couple steps ahead of the media representatives. Jason addressed the crowd.
"Did you know Mayor Parker that some men showed up on federal land near the Wyatt property in violation of the temporary restraining order?"
Parker just looked at them.
"Yes it's true," Fiona said, and stepped down to hand out press releases to the reporters, "They were on the property with guns and harassing a small group of mustangs. Mares and foals who were grazing on the landt as they have been for over 100 years."
Parker's face reddened.
"I have not heard any such thing," he said, "That will have to be verified by us before we give any credence to these outlandish allegations."
"Were you involved in ordering that action," Fiona said.
The crowd roared and inched closer, until the reporters and cameramen were pushed further up the stairs and the city council backed up closer to the front entrance.
"No I was not," Parker said, "And like I said, these allegations must be verified first."
In the corner of the crowd where Kilroy and his partners stood watching events unfold, the mood proved even more somber.
"Damn that city council," one partner said, "We should have never left it up to Parker."
"We needed him to sway enough votes," Kilroy said, "And we're almost there. All we need to do is work on getting one more vote."
"Which one is the holdout?"
"Betty Goodwin would be my bet," Kilroy said, "Parker said she's switched fences before so this might not be a problem."
"It better not be, Kilroy," another partner said, "Because if it becomes one, I'm pulling my money out of this project."
"I think I will as well," another said.
Kilroy held up his hand, feeling his plan slipping away.
"Now hold on," he said, "I told you we can stop this before it goes any further."
"My men are already working on it."
Chance enjoyed his lunch with Ginger and the food proved to be delicious. But his mind kept wandering back to the past.
He sat in a hospital room, beside Fiona who lay there connected to a variety of tubes and wires leading to hospital equipment keeping her alive. She had woken up when he entered the room and had felt his hands grasp her own. In typical fashion, she had been more worried about him than herself and told him so. He stroked her face to reassure her that he was fine, knowing that the fates had decided that she should live.
"How do you feel now?"
She smiled despite her discomfort.
"Better now that I'm looking at my favorite face in the whole wide world."
He tried to sit beside her a while longer but she quickly shooed him off to continue to search for her friend's killer. That she would be fine and waiting for him when he returned. And she had been despite another attempt on her life by the crooked DEA agent who had been trying to silence any remaining witnesses to his crimes. If it hadn't been for Linc… Well anyway, the DEA agent was soon apprehended somewhat the worst for wear because Chance had gotten to him first. Linc had shielded him from any potential legal problems by looking the other way though not without raising an eyebrow first.
He looked up to see Ginger looking at him.
"I'm fine," he said, "Lot on my mind. My workload's been very busy lately."
"I know the feeling," she said, "In fact, I rarely get to do luncheons like this anymore. It's always about business."
"I've been there myself," he said, "My partners keep telling me to take some time off."
"Maybe that's not such a bad idea," she said, "Where would you like to go if you could go anywhere?"
"I was thinking of a ranch in Colorado, south of Denver."
"That's pretty specific," Ginger said, "What's there?"
"My ex-partner's working on a case for some ranchers who are fighting a ski resort," he said, "It's more legal than investigative, a bunch of lawyers getting together and filing papers in court mostly."
"Sounds intriguing," Ginger said, "for lawyers but most people don't choose to spend their leisurely time with attorneys."
"True," Chance said, "But it's beautiful country, lots of wide open space and clean air, a great place to relax."
"All lacking in this great city," she said, "But you can find those things in many other places."
"I haven't seen a lot of my friend lately," he said, "She invited me to come out and assist her on her case but I've been so busy."
Ginger narrowed her eyes.
"The one who took the bullet for Connie," she said.
"Surely you can take some time off," Ginger said, "You have other employees, yes?"
"Four are just starting," he said, "And one of them…"
"What is it?"
"Is coming up this way."
"Chance, thank goodness I tracked you down," Brody said, out of breath.
"I'm in the middle of lunch…"
"I know, but this is too good to pass up," Brody said, "Remember the guy who we met with who got blackmailed?"
"What about him?"
Brody picked some bread off the table.
"You don't mind….Anyway, he got another bunch of flowers this morning with a note. Only they're not begonias."
"What are they?"
Ginger looked from one man to the other, trying to keep up.
"I thought we agreed we weren't taking that case," Chance said.
"But he just got another book deal and it could be worth millions," Brody said, sitting down at the table.
"I don't care if it's worth billions. He's cheating on his wife," Chance said, "If he weren't famous and didn't have a fat wallet, no one would think he was worth blackmailing over it."
"He's a victim…"
"He's not, Brody," Chance said, "He's a hypocrite. He writes books about how men and women should relate to each other and how they have to stick together through the tough times because that's what love is all about and he's cheating on his own wife!"
Brody finally noticed Ginger.
"I'm sorry about interrupting your lunch date and talking shop…"
"By all means, continue, this is fascinating," she said, looking at her watch, "And I still have 15 minutes until I have to be back at the museum."
"See that's the difference between you and me, Chance," Brody said, waving his bread stick, "You're a romantic and I'm a pragmatist."
"I hope that's not the only difference," Chance said, "And I just happen to think that when men and women make promises to each other, it should mean something bigger than both of them."
"Hey, I'm married and got the house with the picket fence. Okay it could use a paint job but I got the wife and kids and you've been what engaged a couple of times and left one fiancée at the altar?"
"She left me," Chance said, "And she was right."
"I remember reading about your breakup in the "Passages" section of PEOPLE, "Ginger said, "I think she made a mistake."
"It's nice of you to say that Ginger," Chance said, "But it would have never worked out and I'm thankful that at least one of us saw that coming."
"That must have been difficult."
"I'd rather not talk about my personal life in the middle of a restaurant," Chance said.
"No problem," she said, "I've been there a time or two myself. Only I don't have to read about my marital status in the gossip pages."
"So should we go meet with this Fortworth guy?"
Ginger's face lit up.
"The Douglas Forthworth," she said, "I've read all his books. He's cheating on his wife?"
Chance looked pointedly at Brody.
"Maybe I'll just leave you two to finish your lunch," Brody said.
"Don't worry about it," Ginger said, "I've got to head back to work anyway. The museum staff is meeting with a delegation from Sri Lanka about a possible exhibit for our upcoming winter series."
They left the restaurant together and went to the parking lot. Ginger embraced Chance and kissed him on the cheek.
"Thank you for the lunch," she said, "It was…interesting."
"I'm sorry for the intrusion," Chance said, "Some people say I've got problems separating my personal and professional lives."
"Most of us do," Ginger said, "I'd like to do this again."
She patted him on the arm.
"As friends," she said, "Your…personal life seems a bit complicated but you're a very nice guy and not just nice looking."
"Thank you and you're a very nice lady," Chance said.
"Take care and we'll keep in touch."
He nodded and she walked away.
"What did you do wrong," Brody asked as they walked to their cars.
Chance just looked at him.
Fiona sat in the diner, with Cassidy, Jason, Maggie and some other people after Parker and the rest of the city council had retreated into the building. Most of those who attended the meeting had gone back home but some had gone to the diner which was serving food on the house in celebration that at least the city council had voted against funding Kilroy's legal defense for the moment. Fiona hoped that Kilroy and Parker wouldn't be able to sway another city council member to vote their way but at least this development had bought them some time.
"What'd you think of the vote," Jason asked while digging into his burger.
"I don't know," Fiona said, "We still don't know how it's going to go but it gives us a breather at least with this issue. We're still going to file the permanent no matter what the city council ultimately decides."
"We're going to have to spend most of tomorrow working on it," Jason said, "And put some time on other days until we are ready to file."
"Will you need my help," Cassidy said, taking a break from her iPod.
"You can help us organize the statements we collected," Fiona said, "But we'll only need you part of the day so you can go back and watch movies with Alice afterward."
"We're watching films from the John Hughes era but skipping Weird Science," Cassidy said.
"Cassidy's a film buff. She's seen everything," Fiona said.
"That's cool," Maggie said, "My sister's writes screenplays."
"I've been working on some," Cassidy said, "Just stuff, nothing finished."
"What do you write about," Maggie asked.
"Rampant consumerism in the age of zombies who take over high schools," she said, "I think George Romero is really cool, but totally under represented the female point of view in his movies after the first one."
Fiona looked over at Cassidy.
"I didn't know you were so seriously into this," she said, "Does Chris know?"
"Yeah, and she's been cool about it," Cassidy said, "More cool than she's been about Spike."
"I think we should get through as much as we can tomorrow with the declarations that we do have," Jason said.
"Alice said that she'll help with that," Fiona said, "She's got some free time and she can pick them up from her phone tree group."
"That will really help," Jason said, "But we've still got our work cut out for us to hit our deadline."
Brody and Chance headed into the office and Mac walked toward them.
"Your receptionist is out getting her root canal done but she left this message," he said, handing it to Chance.
"The Begonia…I mean Petunia guy."
"Yes, he's called three times this morning," Mac said, "He says he hired you for his case."
"I told him the other day that I would think about taking his case on," Chance said, "But I don't have the time and truthfully, I don't have the inclination to help a man who's going to end up breaking his wife's heart."
"How do you know that she doesn't have something on the side," Brody interjected.
Chance sighed. Mac looked at him.
"So you're letting your personal sentiments for this gentleman affect your business decision?"
"It's my agency, my discretion of which cases to accept," he said, "And I'm turning this one down."
"Good for you, Chance," Roy said, "I think you've made the right decision. Now you need to contact him and tell him."
"I will," Chance said, "As soon as I finish my workout."
He left to go to his gym.
"I can't believe him," Brody said, "He spent his noon hour with a gorgeous woman who let him down gently and he's going to lift weights?"
"Working out is his way of releasing stress," Mac said, "One of them anyway."
Brody went to pour himself a scotch. Mac cocked his head.
"It's been a rough day," Brody said, "and I'm not sure it's going to improve any time soon."
"The meeting with your contact in the jewelry case didn't go well?"
"The guy froze," Brody said, "He was going to tell us and then he zipped his lips."
"Probably has someone more powerful than you to answer to," Mac said.
"Yeah…well between that and the unfortunately poor timing that truck showed when it splashed through that puddle, it's been one of those days."
"Tomorrow will be better," Mac said, "So Matlock's luncheon with Ginger didn't go well?"
"I don't know, I got there late," Brody said, "But she gave him the 'let's be friends' speech and that never bodes well."
"I don't agree with that," Mac said, "I believe friendship is the strongest foundation for any successful romantic relationship."
"You and Hallmark," Brody said, "But if the spark isn't there, you can't make up for it."
He put his glass down and started to leave.
"I've got to take my kid to ballet practice because the wife's at her mom's," he said, "See you later."
"Well, I'd better head back to the ranch," Fiona said to Jason, "Bonnie's giving me a ride since Alice's driven the others back."
Jason started to pack up his lap top computer.
"Did you save the files on your thumb drive?"
"We should all have our own copies just in case."
She started to leave, then stopped.
"I might be a little late tomorrow so you and Maggie can meet there and get started without me," she said, winking at Maggie.
"We can do that," she said, picking up her backpack.
After they had packed up their things, they left the diner and began walking back to the City Hall parking lot.
"I'll walk you back and Bonnie to your car," Jason said.
Bonnie locked up her store and went to join them.
"How's business," Fiona asked.
"Pretty good," Bonnie said, "Some of our crowd decided it was a good time to pick up some groceries."
"We got a lot of work done," Fiona said, "But more to do tomorrow."
"We've got company," Jason said, suddenly.
Fiona looked up and saw a group of men standing between them and their vehicles.
The men approached them.
"At least they're not violating the order if they're here in town," Fiona said.
"Hey you outsiders," one man said, "We're here to give you a message. Walk away from this case right now, if you know what's good for you."
"I live here," Bonnie said, "And I don't know any of you so why don't you take your own advice and leave my friends alone?"
"Can't do that," the man said, "They're standing in the way of progress."
"And a big pay day for your bosses no doubt," Fiona said.
The man grabbed her arm and tried to pull her closer to him.
"Listen lady, it doesn't seem as if you're good at taking advice."
Fiona pulled his arm in back of her and then tossed him over her shoulder on the ground.
"And you seem to have a pattern of underestimating the weaker sex," she said, "Now get up and move along."
The other men approached closer but one look from Fiona sent them back a couple steps. The man got himself off from the ground.
"You're going to regret this," the man said, "You better watch your step."
"So you're the one who's been calling me," Fiona said, "I recognize your voice."
"You'd better hear this then," the man said, "Watch your step."
The men walked away. Bonnie shook her head.
"These guys are on someone's payroll," she said, "And it better not be anyone on the city council."
"I think they're Kilroy's guys," Fiona said, "Unless Parker's working for Kilroy and not just advocating for him."
"We've got them scared," Jason said, "And that might actually be good news for us."
Chance did his usual weight lifting regime, trying to concentrate on each repetition and not allowing anything to distract him. It usually worked and this time was no different, but it left him exhausted by the time he finished. He wiped his face with a towel and went to the bar to pour himself some juice.
Mac looked at his nephew.
"You know Chance, working out is very good for releasing stress."
"I know that," he said, "But I do it to keep in shape for my job."
"How was your lunch with Ginger?"
Chance sat down and took a huge sip of his juice.
"She's a very nice lady," he said, "But we've agreed just to be friends and keep it that way."
Mac raised his brows.
"She seemed really into you the night of the exhibit," he said, "And really interested in asking questions to learn more about you."
Chance finished his juice.
"Maybe it's the job that's given her second thoughts, like it has for all the other women," Chance said, "At least it's a little sooner this time than on my wedding day."
" I thought you'd put that experience behind you."
"I have," Chance said, "But you're the one that brought up this pattern you see in my relationships with the opposite sex. That maybe they feel they can't compete with my job."
"You do blend your professional and personal life so much that it's not easy to separate the two," Mac said, "And that can leave a woman feeling as if she's being excluded."
"Lily explained that to me before she left," Chance said, "I didn't fully understand what she meant until I had some time to get away and think about it."
"She said my personal life was complicated," Chance said.
Mac looked at his glass.
Mac shook his head slightly.
"Nothing…I was thinking how I always wanted to eat at the Karmic Garden and never had the opportunity."
Chance scratched his head.
"Really," he said, "I thought you were going to make some point about Ginger and me."
"No…no," Roy said.
Chance's phone rang. He looked at the phone number on the Caller ID.
"Fiona, nice to hear from you. How's life in the Rockies?"
Fiona sat on her couch with her phone, while Cassidy sat on the floor working on her laptop.
"Okay on this end," she said, "We had an eventful meeting today and just got back."
"How's Cassidy doing," Chance asked.
"She's working on some of her writing," Fiona said, "She's been a great help."
"What happened at the meeting?"
"The city council voted against helping the developers with their court battle. The mayor who's in cahoots with the developers vetoed it but the vote needed to override the veto couldn't make up her mind so it's been delayed."
"How does that affect your work?"
"We're still moving forward with the permanent," she said, "Although we haven't got anyone willing to enforce the temporary injunction."
"That doesn't sound good," Chance said, "What does Jed think?"
"He and Alice are getting the ranchers to guard the Wyatt property but it's a 24 thing and they've got their own properties to look after."
" Fiona, what about you," Chance said, "How are you doing?"
"Fine, things are going well. There's been a couple things. Nothing we can't handle," she said, "I'm just tired. It's been a long week."
Chance picked up something in her voice.
Fiona sighed, knowing he knew her all too well.
"Some of the developers aren't happy with what we're doing."
"It's nothing to worry about," Fiona said, "We've run into this before."
"Do you need any help," Chance said, "Because…"
"No, you've got your plate filled there," Fiona said, "We can handle it on this end."
"Meaning you don't want me there."
"No, not at all," Fiona said, "I don't need you here. I'd love to see you."
"I'm thinking about it," Chance said, "Maybe I can get my investigators to pick up some extra work and ask Mac to look after them."
"That would be great," Fiona said, "If you can get away."
"I'll see what I can do," Chance said.
"Thanks, how are you doing?"
"Okay, busy like you."
"Is Brody helping you out?"
"Yeah, I've gotten a lot done with his help," Chance said, "Just don't tell him that."
"That's good," she said, "Listen, I got to go but it's been great talking to you."
Chance clicked off his phone.
"How's she doing?"
He looked up and saw his uncle, having forgotten he was there.
"Fine," Chance said, "She's really busy on her case. Says it's going well but I don't think she's telling me everything."
"Probably doesn't want to worry you," Mac said, "Doesn't want you to come riding in and trying to fix everything for her."
Fiona looked up at Cassidy.
"Are you sure you're okay working with us tomorrow," she said.
Cassidy looked up from her computer.
"Sure, I'll put in a few hours and then Alice and I will make some popcorn and pizza and watch some movies."
"You enjoy spending time with Alice, don't you?"
Cassidy grew thoughtful.
"Yeah, she's very nice and doesn't talk down to me like I'm a little kid."
"She's very blunt sometimes, but it's only because she cares," Fiona said, "She's helped me a lot since I've known her, almost like a mother."
"You didn't have a mother, did you?"
Fiona looked at Cassidy, surprised at the question.
"We all have mothers, but mine died when I was young. Not long after my father was killed."
"I never really knew my parents," Cassidy said, "I only had my sister."
"And then you lost her," Fiona said, "You know it's funny but I spent most of my life growing up praying for a sister. I used to wish for one every time I blew out my birthday candles."
"You didn't get one."
"No, but I had my uncle and I had my best friend," Fiona said, "She was like a sister."
"And you had Chance," she said.
"Yeah, I did," Fiona said, "He lost his mother too, though he was younger than I was when it happened. He didn't have any brothers or sisters either."
"I have a grandmother," Cassidy said, "And Aunt Chris and Uncle Dan so I guess I'm very lucky."
"Very lucky, to have people who love you so much," she said.
Outside the cabin, a stranger lurked around the property. He crept up to the window and watched the woman and younger girl sitting inside, unaware of his presence. His orders had been to keep an eye on his quarry and wait for the perfect opportunity to strike, to put an end to any threats faced by those who had hired him permanently.
Suddenly, he saw the girl's head pop up.
Inside the cabin, Cassidy looked around her.
"What's wrong," Fiona asked.
"I thought I heard something outside…"
Fiona got up from where she had been sitting and walked towards a window. The man saw her and moved to the side where he couldn't be seen.
"I don't see anything," she said, "What did you hear?"
"I don't know," Cassidy said, "Branches breaking I think."
Fiona knew that meant that someone could be awfully close to the cabin. She went to get her gun and told Cassidy to remain inside.
"Where are you going," she said.
Fiona put her gun in her pocket but kept her hand on top of it.
© Copyright 2016 Marzy Dotes. All rights reserved.
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