Fiona stepped out of the cabin, carefully closing the door behind her. She switched on her flashlight and looked around into the darkness but saw nothing except several trees and the rover parked in front. She thought she saw shadows move in the brush which grew alongside one of the cabin's walls. She flashed her light over there and flinched when she saw a raccoon's face before it scrambled off.
She exhaled and walked back towards the cabin wall near a window. She shone the light on the ground around her as she stepped and saw several imprints in the moist dirt. Footprints. She carefully placed her shoe in one of them and saw that it was quite a bit larger. She looked closer and noticed several small branches broken adjacent to the prints. That's when she knew that she and Cassidy weren't alone. She looked around but couldn't see any other signs that anyone had just been there. But she could feel him.
She walked to check her car, but except for the crack in the windshield from the other night, it looked fine. Finally, she walked back into the cabin.
Cassidy looked up from where she had returned to working on her computer.
"Is there anyone out there," she asked.
Fiona shook her head. There was no point in alarming Cassidy at this point. Whoever had come was probably gone.
"Just raccoons," she said.
Cassidy's eyes lit up.
"Cool," she said, walking over to look out the window.
"I think I scared most of them off."
Fiona returned to her work but couldn't get her mind off the idea that she and Cassidy had been spied on most likely by whoever had been responsible for the harassing phone calls.
"I really thought I heard something outside," Cassidy said.
"I believe you," Fiona said, "And thanks for telling me."
"Those guys are jerks," Cassidy said, "for breaking the windshield just because things didn't go their way."
"We don't have any proof that they're responsible," Fiona said, "But unofficially, I agree with you."
Cassidy moved over to sit with her on the sofa. She still looked nervous, though trying not to show it.
"Are you scared?"
Fiona looked at the younger girl and thought about her answer.
"A little," she said, "Mostly about what's going to happen in court. I always feel that way before I have to appear on a case. After a few minutes, it usually passes."
"You never look like you get scared."
"In these types of situations, you can feel it but you can't always show it," she said, "And believe me, I've been much more scared at other things in my life so this doesn't seem like much to be afraid of."
"Like what happened to you last year."
Fiona put her arm around the girl's shoulder.
"Yeah," Fiona said, quietly, "But the important thing is that you can't let your fears run your life."
Chance watched as Brody paced back and forth in front of him. Greg, another investigator who also used to work for the LAPD watched as well from the table where they were sitting inside a sports bar.
"So you don't want to take the Fortworth case," Brody said, "That's cool. It could have given us some exposure but okay…"
"I agree with Chance," Greg said, taking another sip from his beer, "The guy might not deserve to be blackmailed but he made his bed, he's got to lie in it. He can always go to the police or hire someone else."
An older man walked up to the table bringing more chicken wings.
"Montana, who do you like in the baseball game?"
"Angels by four," Chance said.
The man penciled into his little notebook.
"By the way, thanks for finding my kid's stamp collection," the man said, "He never thought he'd see it again."
"The wings are on the house," the man said before leaving.
Both investigators looked at Chance.
"Stamp collection?" Brody asked.
"Someone snatched it right off of him on his way to 'show and tell' at school and tried to sell it," Chance said. "He's only 8."
"Tough world," Greg said, shaking his head, "I hate it when our kids have to experience it."
"That's why I lock mine up in the house when I'm not there," Brody said, "And my daughters aren't dating until they graduate from high school."
"Yeah right," he said, "I tried that with mine. Didn't happen."
"Yours married cops," Brody said, "So I guess it all worked out in the end."
"What about you, Chance," Greg asked.
"He's too busy messing up his social calendar with his work to get down to business in that area," Brody said.
Chance sighed and looked up from his ledger.
"Can we get back to talking about these cases that are still pending?"
Greg took another long sip from his beer bottle.
"I closed out three this week," he said, "I submitted the paperwork on them today."
"I saw that," Chance said, "That's great work especially on the extortion case at the zoo."
"Isn't that the one where someone threatened the primates' handler," Brody said, "Who did it?"
"Inside job," Greg said, "She had been involved with the guy who oversaw the croc pen but he broke it off with her because she chose the apes over him."
"That's a weird one," Brody said, dipping into the wings.
Chance picked up his pen.
"Did you forward the information to Linc?"
"They arrested the croc guy this afternoon," he said, "They also discovered the whereabouts of that alligator that somehow disappeared in transit on its way to the zoo. The keeper was wearing what's left of the poor creature on his feet."
"Cold bastard," Brody said, "I hope they put him away."
Chance raised his brow.
"Lucky Fiona wasn't here to handle that case and found out about it," Chance said, shaking his head, "She would have fed him to the crocs after she was done with him."
"I can imagine," Brody said, "but she's safely out of range and in the Rockies doing the good work."
Chance paused, looking at both men.
"Speaking of the Rockies and… Fiona, I might be going on a vacation."
Both men dropped their jaws at his words.
Fiona picked up the phone.
A familiar voice responded.
"You know you shouldn't be putting in such late hours because it's not going to do you any good."
"What? Who is this?"
"You and your lawyer friends didn't drop the case like you were told to do."
"No, and we don't plan to respond to your threats," she said, "We're taking this all the way if we need to, to win."
"That's too bad," he said, "You're such a pretty woman but you won't be nearly as pretty when you're dead."
He hung up.
She held the phone in her hands. How did the caller know she was still working? She got up and walked to the window to look outside into the darkness for the second time that night. She stayed there for quite a while as her coffee grew cold on the table.
"You're going on vacation," the two men said in unison.
Brody slammed his beer bottle on the table, causing people at nearby tables to look at them.
"Just for a week or so," Chance said, "That's why I called you both here to meet with you. You are my two most experienced investigators."
"Oh man, this is great," Brody said, "Your business will be safe in our hands and running smooth as satin when you get back."
"I think that's silk," Greg said.
"Whatever," Brody said, "We won't let you down, Chance and you really do need to go off and relax somewhere for a while."
"It's only going to be a little while," Chance said, "I'm not taking off and handing the agency over to you for very long and officially, my uncle will be in charge."
"So when you taking off," Brody said, looking at Greg who shrugged.
"Day after tomorrow," Chance said, "It's will give me time to clear some remaining inventory forms on the jewelry and tie some things up."
"That's a quick change of heart," Brody said, "I really think the time off is going to be good for you."
"Don't think I'm going to go easy on you when I come back."
"We'd be disappointed if you did," Brody said, "Have you told Fiona?"
"I'm going to give her a call," Chance said, leaving the table.
"I got another one too, Jason," Fiona said.
She sat on her sofa trying to get some research done on her lap top when the phone rang again. Jason had called her about the latest threatening phone call he had received which was similar to her own.
"I'm getting worried," Jason said, "I didn't want to scare Maggie but I'm starting to wonder if we're safe here."
"I tried to call the Denver office of the FBI this morning," she said, "But they haven't called me back."
"Hopefully, when we file the permanent," Jason said, "Whoever's doing this will back off."
"It's got to be Kilroy," Fiona said, "Look, I'll check with the FBI before I go to the diner."
"Okay, see you tomorrow," Jason said, "And be careful."
Fiona got off the phone and lay back on the couch.
Chance stepped outside of the sports bar and took out his phone, to call FIONA
She picked up.
"Hello, Montana is that you?"
"Yes it is," he said, "Did I catch you at a bad time?"
"No…not at all," she said, "How you doing?"
"Pretty good, what about you?"
"Tired…otherwise good. Is there anything wrong?"
"No, I just got to thinking that I might fly out in a couple of days and visit."
He heard a pause on the other end.
"You don't have to," she said, "We can handle things here."
"I know I don't have to. I want to come out," he said, "If it's okay with you."
"Sure," she said, "I'd love to see you. So would Cassidy."
"I've got some work to finish up tomorrow, but I should be able to leave the following morning."
"That'll be great," she said, "I look forward to seeing you."
"Me too," he said, "Good night."
Chance walked to the edge of the sidewalk where it merged onto the beach. He could hear the waves crashing in the distance. He took off his shoes and socks and walked across the sand. It had cooled considerably since the sun set but still felt comfortable underneath his feet.
He looked out toward where the tides drew in and saw her sitting on a log, her white dress standing in contrast to the darkness around her. He walked over to join her.
She looked up and shook her head and he sat down. Silence fell between them but not in an uncomfortable way.
"So this is where your walk led you," he said.
"This is my favorite spot on this beach," she said, "It's so quiet at night, and beautiful. We don't get many stars out here but there's the moon."
"It is beautiful," he said, "Brody told me about the grand jury hearing."
She turned to look at him, her hair framing her face.
"I'm sorry I didn't know about it until this morning," she said, "and it lasted most of the day. I took the first plane out here when I was done."
"I know you would," he said, "Don't worry about it. I'm just glad you're here now."
"I had a present for you, but I left it back in Houston."
"You're being here is enough," he said, "So how'd it go?"
She looked out at the ocean.
"It went," she said, "I don't know what the end result was or what will happen."
He stroked her hair back off her face.
"I mean, how did it go?"
She paused, then took a deep breath releasing it slowly.
"I always think that I've finally got past it, but then there are days like today I felt like I was back where I started."
"I think that's to be expected," Chance said, "When you testify to something you've experienced, you're reliving it."
"I know that," she said, "I tell that to people who are witnesses in cases I handle all the time. But it's different to go through it yourself."
" Fiona, you've worked very hard to get through this and build your life back again," he said, "Harder than anyone I've known. Harder than I ever could."
Her eyes glistened then she shrugged.
"I know," she said, "Most days I know that, just not today."
He put his arm around her shoulders.
"Then I'll sit here with you until today passes."
"But it's your birthday," she said, "You should be happy and having a good time with your friends."
"I had a great party, lots of excitement," he said, "But it's nice to sit and wind down from all of that with my best friend."
She looked at him and smiled, then rested her head on his shoulder.
She woke up, and saw that morning had come, as evidenced through the sun shining through her window. She could hear footsteps down the hallway and into the kitchen. Then she heard a knock on her door.
"Come in," she said, resting back on her arms.
"I made some eggs if you'd like some," Cassidy said, "The first couple broke but the second batch came out fine."
"Thanks Cassidy, that's great."
She got out of bed and followed Cassidy into the kitchen. Cassidy grabbed some toast that she had also made and put it on two plates.
"So what time are we going into town?"
"About an hour," Fiona said, "Thanks for coming with me. I won't need your services all day."
"No problem," Cassidy said, "Alice's going to come pick me up in the afternoon."
"I'll probably be back late, so maybe you'd like to stay at the ranch house overnight?"
Cassidy bit into her toast.
"We're already planning on making it a sleepover because we won't get to Pretty in Pink until after midnight so no problem."
Fiona finished her breakfast and went to shower and get dressed in some jeans and a long-sleeved tee-shirt. She and Cassidy gathered their things and headed to the rover.
Chance sat at his desk, going through the final drafts of the invoices to send to the police department for the jewelry seized as evidence the day before.
Mac entered his office and sat down in a chair.
"I thought you were going to the concert with Sophia at Newport Beach," Chance said.
"We're going to pick up a lunch basket and then head off," Mac said, "What about you?"
Chance gestured to the papers on his desk.
"I'm going to finish up my paperwork…" he said.
Mac looked at him and shook his head.
"Then I'm going to get ready to take my plane to Colorado tomorrow morning."
Mac looked up.
"So you've decided to take a vacation?"
"Yes I have," Chance said, "I'm going to need you to look after things while I'm gone. I let Brody and Greg think they're in charge but told them to report to you."
"I see," he said, "Between the three of us and your other employees, the business will be in good hands."
Chance sipped his coffee.
"Good," he said, "It' going to be nice to get out of the city for a while."
"How did Fiona take the news," Mac asked.
"She said she was looking forward to my arrival," Chance said.
"How's her case going?"
"Fine," Chance said, "They seem to have things going their way so far."
"It was on the news last night," Mac said, "Pretty contentious issue among the residents but then those involving developers trying to enforce change in areas where people like the way things are, often become that way."
"How contentious can it be," Chance said, "It's just a small town."
"There've been protests at the City Hall," Mac said, "And those are just the ones we know about."
"Well, that's the nature of those types of cases," Chance said, "Emotions get all stirred up like dust on a prairie when you start talking about people's land and all the money involved."
Cassidy sorted through the declarations that had been submitted to the legal team by the area residents. Occasionally she would thumb through one document and read it.
"Wow, I didn't know the Bakers had lived on their land since the 1890s," she said, before putting it down.
"Many of these families have had the land in their families for generations," Fiona said, "So it's very precious to them, something to work with and then give to their children."
"Aunt Christina is thinking about buying some land and building a house on it."
"Well, now that she and Dan are starting a family, they probably need a bigger house."
"I think they should," Cassidy said, "With plenty of land for kids to play on and for animals to run around free."
"Like Alice's ranch?"
"I agree with you about that," Fiona said, "It's harder to do these days with all the development going on outside most city limits but there still is good land out there."
"Would you do that some day?"
Jason tossed down another document.
"I think that's what we have for now," he said.
"Alice's going to drop another stack over when she picks Cassidy up," Fiona said.
"Every one of them is necessary," Jason said, "The judge needs to know that the developer's proposed report might bring in tax revenue but it's going to adversely impact families that have lived in this area for generations."
"Montana's flying up tomorrow."
Jason looked up from his paperwork.
"Why the sudden change in plans?"
"He's got some time off and is coming up to take a breather," Fiona said.
"So he can help us then on the investigative side?"
"He's here to relax," she said, "He's been under a lot of stress from work and needs to get away."
"He'll be walking into a hornets' nest whether he likes it or not," Jason said, "Whether you like it or not."
"Well, I think it's awesome," she said, "He's promised to take me fishing."
"He doesn't have to get involved in this legal fight," Fiona said.
"If he sees that you're involved, I would guess that he'll involve himself."
"I'll make it clear to him that we're doing fine," Fiona said.
"We could use his skills," Jason said, "You and Jed have done a lot of the land surveying but you need help."
"The other ranchers are trying but they have their own places to take care of not to mention the guard duty over the area covered by the injunction."
"The law enforcement should be enforcing that."
"Yeah they should," Fiona said, "But we both know that's not going to be happening."
He nodded then looked at her.
"So what exactly is the relationship between the two of you?"
She looked back at him, surprised.
Maggie walked up with another stack of documents.
"I got these from City Hall," she said, "Fortunately, Parker's aide's on our side."
"These are the histories of land transactions in this region," Fiona said, thumbing through them, "This should be useful. Thanks Maggie."
"How the declarations going," Maggie asked.
"Great," Fiona said, "We're waiting for some more that are coming."
"We need everything useful we can get," Jason said, "We need to get this all to Denver."
Brody dropped by the office.
"Are you faxing those invoices over to the LAPD?"
Chance looked up at him and nodded.
"Greg and I are headed out to do the stakeout at the art museum," Brody said.
"Not where Ginger works," Chance said.
"There's a meeting taking place between a wife of one of our clients and the guy she works with. Greg's out there already with the camera."
"Camera," Chance said, "You know you can't take flash photos around some of those older paintings."
"Relax, it's digital video," Brody said, "Besides, they're meeting in the sculpture garden."
"What case is this," Chance said.
"The guy who's the deejay of that popular all-night show," Brody said, "That's the problem, he works all night, she works all day. Ships passing through the night and she's thinking about jumping ship."
"You know we don't usually take cases like this one."
"It's my wife's favorite radio personality," Brody said, "She threatened to divorce me if I didn't help him."
"We're going to have to have a talk about business when I get back," Chance said, "in the meantime, I think we'd both better head to the museum."
"Why, you want to see Ginger again," Brody said, "After she just dropped you down a notch on her social registry."
"Ginger's a nice lady," Chance said, "And doesn't deserve to have her museum turned upside down."
He started walking.
"Hey, Chance wait…"
Alice arrived at the diner to drop off some more declarations and pick up Cassidy before heading off to the video store to pick up their films for the evening. Maggie took the box and began sorting through them.
"Why don't you take a break and come with us," Alice said.
Fiona looked back at Jason and Maggie.
"Sure," she said as the three of them headed out of the diner to the video store, which was inside a building about the size of a trailer stacked wall to wall with DVDs. A teenaged girl who worked there sat on the steps, reading a magazine.
"I'll go get them," Cassidy said, and dashed inside.
"So how are things going with your case today," Alice said, as they waited outside.
"Very well," she said, "Those declarations will really help."
"We'll be able to get more after next week."
"We have to submit our case in writing a couple days before oral arguments on the injunction in Denver."
"Do you think you'll be ready," Alice said.
"We've still got a lot to do but between the three of us, we should make it."
"What about those threats you've been getting?"
"The FBI can't send anybody out," she said, "If we're still having problems, we can stop by the Denver office when we're there."
Alice shook her head.
"I don't have a good feeling about this," she said, "I don't think Kilroy's going to stop at anything to get his project built."
"If the court rules our way, it will be a lot tougher for him."
"But that might just him more desperate," Alice said, "And desperate men do crazy things."
"We'll be fine," Fiona said, "We might be working late tonight."
"Stick together while you're in town and call me when you get home," Alice said.
"I will," Fiona said, "Montana's flying in tomorrow morning…just to visit."
"That's wonderful," she said, "It'll be great to see him again."
"He's just here to get away from the stress of his work in L.A. not to do any investigative work"
Alice looked at the younger woman.
"That's fine," she said, "There's plenty to be done on the ranch and that's a great way to relax."
"That will be good," Fiona said,"I'm worried about him."
Alice put her hand on Fiona 's shoulder.
"Would you like to talk about it later, over some tea?"
Fiona looked at Alice.
Chance and Brody entered into the museum's garden and walked down the brick path that separated the perfectly manicured flower beds of roses in a variety of hues and grass that looked like it had been trimmed by a razor. Several gardeners tended the flowers and looked up to see the two men wandering in their midst.
A magnificent fountain served as the centerpiece of the garden before the entrance into the sculpture garden.
Greg set up shop just inside the entrance, behind a statue that has been sculpted by Rodin with his camera ready to go but his targets hadn't yet arrived.
"Oooh, that's "The Kiss" but not the original," Brody said, pointing at the statue, "Rodin had this real appreciation for female…figures."
"He's a guy," a voice came from behind them.
They turned around and saw Ginger who had walked up behind them.
"So are you here taking an art appreciation tour of our Rodin collection or you on a case?"
"Maybe both," Brody said, "Why limit yourself to just one activity?"
"It's a case," Chance said, "One of my investigators is doing surveillance on a wife of one of my clients."
"The deejay on the "From Darkness 'til Dawn" radio show," Brody added.
"Oh yes, I've heard of him," Ginger said, "So his wife's cheating on him?"
"We don't…Oh wait here she comes," Brody said.
They watched as a nicely dressed woman walked up to the bench in a small courtyard and sat down. She reached into her bag and pulled out a book.
"Subtle entrance, I like that," Brody said.
"I thought you didn't handle domestic cases," Ginger said.
"This is an exception," Chance said, looking at Brody, "It's not the rule."
"Here comes the man," Brody said, looking at a young man walking towards the woman who seemed not to notice him. At least not at first.
The man approached the same bench and the woman looked up at him.
"He's telling her that the view is nice and then if the seat is taken…"
Both Chance and Ginger looked at Brody.
Suddenly, they noticed that while Greg lifted his camera, he caught his foot on a branch next to the statue.
"Uh oh, this isn't good," Brody said, watching Greg crash down on the ground, his camera scattering and landing just next to a heeled shoe of the woman. Both the man and the woman looked down at the camera and then at Greg who was trying to stand up. The man walked over to him, one of his hands balled up in a fist.
"Definitely not good."
The man grabbed Greg and pulled him by his collar. Greg pulled away and after the man threw a punch, they started wrestling, bumping against the statue.
"My Rodin," Ginger said.
Then the men fell on the ground and both Chance and Brody ran over there to pull the man off of Greg. Greg kicked the man off of him sending him backward into Brody and Chance. Unfortunately, the fountain caught Brody, and he fell into it splashing water everywhere. The woman got off the bench and started yelling at them.
"What the hell are you doing," she said.
"Is that your boyfriend," Brody said, climbing out of the fountain.
The woman crossed her arms.
"No you idiot, he's my accountant."
The woman pushed Brody away.
"I missed the tax deadline and needed an extension," she said, "He just wanted to run over the final figures with me."
"In a museum?"
"Brody, let's just let these two go and call it a day, okay," Chance said.
"Look, we thought this would be a quiet place to review the return before sending it in," the woman said, brushing the dirt off of her accountant's suit, "Did my husband hire you?"
"We can't tell you that," Brody said, "Investigator, client confidentiality."
"Oh so he did, did he!"
Chance tried to intervene.
"Look, I'm sure we can settle this like…"
She threw a punch at Brody but instead hit Chance squarely in the eye.
Fiona returned to the diner after Alice left and saw Maggie sitting at the table alone.
"Where's Jason," she said.
"He went to get some fresh air," Maggie said, "He'll be back. It's turning into a long day."
"Sure is," Fiona said, "We'll work for a few more hours and then call it a day."
"It'll be night by then."
"The life of an attorney means never ending workdays," she said.
"Did you always want to be a lawyer?"
"Ever since I was a young girl, it's all I ever wanted to be."
"And you've become a very successful one," Maggie said, "I thought about going back to law school. I did a semester before I got married."
"You were married?"
"Not too long, well longer than I should have been," she said, "But I'd love to go back."
"You should," Fiona said, "You'd make an incredible lawyer."
"Thanks, but it must wreak havoc on your social life," she said, "Have you ever been married?"
"No I haven't," Fiona said, "I've come close a couple times but never did it. I haven't always made the best choices in men."
"Join the crowd," Maggie said, "There should be a sisterhood of women who fell in love with jerks. I'd be president of it but…"
"You really like Jason, don't you?"
"I think we both know which one of us he…likes."
"He's very attractive and he's a nice guy," Fiona said, "But I'm not interested in a relationship with him. If it comes up, I'll tell him so."
"Why aren't you interested," Maggie said, "He's a great guy."
Fiona looked down for a minute.
"I know he is, and maybe there might have been a time," Fiona said, "But I have my own baggage to deal with and I think if he knew about it, he'd walk away."
"I'm sorry," Maggie said.
"Don't be," Fiona said, "Life's filled with good things too."
Ginger passed Chance a makeshift ice pack to put over his eye.
"That should stop the swelling in its tracks," she said.
He took it and gingerly placed it on his face.
"Thanks," he said, "I'm sorry about what happened. I'll have a talk with Brody and Greg."
"It ended well," she said, "The deejay and his wife are getting a hefty tax refund this year according to the accountant."
"What are you thinking about?"
"I'm wondering if the agency will be in safe hands while I'm out of town."
The news startled her.
"You leaving for work?"
"No, vacation," Chance said, "I'm going to Colorado to visit Fiona ."
"That's great," Ginger said, "I'm sure she'll be glad to see you."
"I hope so," Chance said, "We haven't seen each other in several months."
"Whatever it is, I'm sure it won't matter when you get off the plane," Ginger said, winking at him, "We women are funny that way."
Fiona sat with Jason in the diner while Maggie went on a quick errand. She looked at her watch.
"We should pack up and get going when she gets back," she said, "We're all tired."
"I'm glad that we're finally alone," Jason said, looking at her.
She stopped writing and looked up at him.
"We've been alone before," she said.
"I think you know I'm very attracted to you," he said, "I'd like to see you…socially."
"We're working together," Fiona said, "I don't mix work with pleasure and besides we live thousands of miles apart."
"How about when this case is filed away and done with, maybe get together for a few days in Denver," Jason said,"You're a beautiful woman and I really like you."
She looked at him for a moment.
"Look, I find you very attractive too and part of me is tempted…"
"Part of you?"
"But there's a woman in this equation I like and respect who I don't want to hurt."
"You're a very nice man, Jason, and I've met a few of those too in my life," she said, "But you don't see what's right in front of you because you're too busy looking everywhere else."
Jason remained silent for a while.
"I see…well Maggie's very pretty and smart, a hard worker, but she's a friend and I've always believed it's best to keep your friends apart from your lovers."
"That's not a bad rule," Fiona said, "But she has strong feelings for you and I'm not going to be the cause of any pain for her."
"I don't want to hurt her," he said, "I really do care about her."
"My advice to you would be to take a closer look at those who care for you, who look out for you and really appreciate them," Fiona said, "Then who knows, maybe someday you can build from there or at least be honest to them about your true feelings."
"So I guess you and I will be...friends?"
Fiona started to say something but instead, nodded.
Two men sat in a pickup truck watching the diner while a third one walked towards a rover in the parking lot.
"They should be leaving pretty soon," the driver of the pickup said.
"Is this something that you really want to do," the other asked.
"We're just following orders from our boss," the driver said, "and he said to remove these outsiders from the equation no matter what the cost."
© Copyright 2016 Marzy Dotes. All rights reserved.